A Philadelphia judge has sentenced Michael White to two years’ probation for throwing his knife onto a rooftop after fatally stabbing real estate developer Sean Schellenger near Rittenhouse Square in July 2018, likely closing out a case fraught with racial tension that garnered citywide attention.
In October, a jury found White not guilty of voluntary manslaughter, the case’s most serious charge. If convicted, the 22-year-old may have spent two decades in prison.
The panel also found White not guilty of possessing an instrument of a crime, but convicted him of tampering with evidence for tossing the jagged blade he stuck into Schellenger’s back, and trashing a bloody shirt and a backpack after fleeing the scene.
“I’m just happy this part of my life is over,” said White after Thursday’s hearing before Common Pleas Court Judge Glenn B. Bronson. “Now I can focus on the future, working hard to be the person I always envisioned myself to be.”
After the hearing, Assistant District Attorney Anthony Voci told reporters he was satisfied with White’s sentence, saying the “evidence spoke for itself.”
Members of Schellenger’s family, who were not permitted to give victim impact statements during the hearing because prosecutors didn’t prove that White’s killing of Schellenger was a crime, did not attend.
In a statement, Linda Schellenger, Sean’s mother, said the “sentencing is, hopefully, the last episode in Krasner’s finely orchestrated obstruction of justice.”
The tampering with evidence charge was added just before jury selection as part of an agreement between the District Attorney’s Office and White’s lawyers that removed one count of third-degree murder.
In an eleventh-hour brief, Krasner argued that pursuing voluntary manslaughter instead of third-degree murder was the “most likely way to secure a just conviction for this killing.”
White, who is black, and Schellenger, who was white, crossed paths on July 12, 2018, because of a traffic jam near Rittenhouse Square.
A beige Ford Taurus was blocking the intersection at 17th and Chancellor streets, making it difficult for the black Mercedes-Benz Schellenger and his friends were traveling in to turn, according to testimony. Schellenger had been drinking with friends at a nearby restaurant before getting into the car.
White was pedaling his bike toward West Philadelphia to deliver a fast-food order when he reached Chancellor Street.
He told jurors he came face-to-face with 37-year-old Schellenger seconds later when White tried to de-escalate a brewing dispute between the driver of the Taurus, who was black, and Schellenger. White said Schellenger was heading toward the Taurus when he spoke up.
“You don’t have to act like a tough guy. It’s not even that deep,” White said he told Schellenger.
Seconds later, White testified that Schellenger told him he’d “beat the black off him,” then wrapped his arms around White’s waist and lifted him off the ground.
White said he stabbed Schellenger to “get him off me,” not to kill him. His attorneys argued that Schellenger, a former Penn State University football player, was physically intimidating and intoxicated.