In what has become one of the most closely-watched criminal trials in Philadelphia, a judge upheld third-degree murder charges against a food-delivery biker who stabbed a real estate developer in Rittenhouse Square.
Michael White, 21, originally charged with first-degree murder, saw third-degree murder charges against him upheld for the July 12 death of Sean Schellenger during his preliminary hearing on Tuesday morning before Judge Charles Hayden in the Criminal Justice Center.
White’s defense lawyers wanted the charges downgraded even lower, to involuntary manslaughter, saying White acted in self-defense when he stabbed Schellenger.
Judge Hayden rejected that request, but did grant a defense request to let White off house arrest so he can seek employment while awaiting trial, with mandatory reporting to court twice a week. Supporters with the Philadelphia Community Bail Fund had previously raised funds to post White’s bail after his charges were downgraded in August.
Rittenhouse Square murder
Schellenger was killed during a late-night encounter on Chancellor Street off of Rittenhouse Square during a happenstance encounter with White, who was on bicycle delivering food. Schellenger, out drinking and celebrating with friends, was a passenger in a vehicle that got stuck behind another car at 17th and Chancellor streets.
Schellenger was reportedly yelling at the other car’s driver to move when White biked up and, as reported by the Inquirer, interceded in the altercation, asking Schellenger, “Why you gotta be such a tough guy?”
Then things turned violent. White’s defense attorneys claim Schellenger threatened White by saying “I’m going to beat the black off you.” Witnesses say White pulled a knife which he carried for self-defense and warned him “Get back.”
Witnesses said as Schellenger tackled White, he lifted him off the ground and that White was in mid-air when he knifed Schellenger in the back, puncturing his lung and aorta and causing his death. White fled on foot but days later surrendered to police.
During the hearing, a medical examiner testifying for the prosecution said Schellenger’s blood alcohol content was around .19 – more than twice the legal limit for DUI of .08 – and that he also tested positive for cocaine, according to 6ABC.
The case has touched on racial and economic tensions in Philadelphia and sparked wide-ranging debates among many who never met either the suspect or victim or witnessed the event. Defense attorneys will argue that White, a college student and aspiring poet and musician who was working for Uber Eats, Caviar and Postmates at the time of the stabbing, acted in self-defense.
“During that scuffle Michael defended himself and caused a fatal wound,” said family spokesman Gregory Thompson after the hearing.
Nonetheless, prosecutors are still pursuing a third-degree murder conviction for the death of Schellenger, a real estate developer who lived in Point Breeze and left behind a fiancee.
The case against White will now proceed to trial.