Philly bike courier found not guilty of voluntary manslaughter in Rittenhouse stabbing of developer

Michael White leaves court after a jury found him not guilty of voluntary manslaughter in the stabbing of real estate developer Sean Schellenger. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Michael White leaves court after a jury found him not guilty of voluntary manslaughter in the stabbing of real estate developer Sean Schellenger. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Updated 5:05 p.m.

After deliberating for roughly seven hours, a Philadelphia jury found bike courier Michael White not guilty of voluntary manslaughter in the fatal stabbing of real estate developer Sean Schellenger.

Thursday’s decision drew tears from both sides of a packed courtroom and outrage from the Schellenger family as a case fraught with racial tension came to a close.

White is black, and has claimed Schellenger, who was white, used racist language in their July 2018 exchange that ultimately led to Schellenger’s death.

Immediately following the verdict, Linda Schellenger, Sean’s mother, stood up and told Common Pleas Court Judge Glenn B. Bronson that District Attorney Larry Krasner should be arrested for obstruction of justice.

“He has blood on his hands,” she said, referring to Krasner’s eleventh-hour decision to reduce the charges filed against White and try him on voluntary manslaughter instead of third-degree murder.

Prosecutors did not address reporters outside the courthouse.

In a statement, Krasner said that his office “remains committed to individual justice, which rejects using people as symbols or stereotypes to serve any other agenda.

“My heart goes out to family and friends of Sean Schellenger, whose pain and trauma are evident even today, and to everyone else who has been affected by this tragedy.”

The verdict follows three days of testimony often before a gallery filled with family members and friends of both men.

Prosecutors argued that White, 22, intentionally killed Schellenger, 37, after threatening him with a jagged, seven-inch knife.

White testified that he stuck the knife into Schellenger’s back in self-defense as Schellenger tried to tackle him. White said he feared for his life after Schellenger told him through gritted teeth that he was going to “beat the black off” him.

After the verdict, Mark Schellenger, Sean’s father, said his son didn’t have “a racist bone in his body.”

“To have him smeared like that just to save a murderer, that’s despicable,” said Mark Schellenger.

White, who walked silently through a throng of reporters after leaving the Center City courthouse, was also acquitted on charges of possession of an instrument of a crime and obstruction of justice, but jurors found him guilty of tampering with evidence, charges that stemmed from throwing the knife onto a roof as he fled and disposing of his bloody clothes.

White is scheduled to be sentenced on Dec. 6.

“We’re just glad justice was served,” said Philadelphia’s Chief Defender Keir Bradford-Grey.

White and Schellenger 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 towards West Philadelphia to deliver a fast-food order when he reached Chancellor Street.

He told jurors he came face-to-face with Schellenger seconds after he tried to de-escalate a brewing dispute between the driver of the Taurus, who was black, and Schellenger. White said Schellenger was heading towards the Taurus when White 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 threatened him, then wrapped his arms around his waist and lifted him into the air.

Prosecutors argued that White inserted himself and escalated the argument by pulling a knife. They showed the jury cellphone video taken by a witness.

White said he only 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.

After the verdict, Pastor Greg Thompson, one of White’s supporters, said the 22-year-old will never be the same.

“It’s difficult. He understands that someone lost their life. I mean, that’s a very difficult thing to live with,” said Thompson.

The Associated Press contributed reporting.

Editor’s note: This article was updated to correct Linda Schellenger’s name.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.