What to Know
- Michael White, 21, is accused of third-degree murder in the stabbing death of Sean Schellenger.
- A third-degree murder charge carries a possible maximum sentence of 20 to 40 years.
- It remains unknown what exactly triggered the deadly incident.
A Philadelphia judge denied a request to reduce charges for a 21-year-old college student accused of stabbing and killing a real estate developer last summer.
Michael White is facing third-degree murder charges in the July 12th death of Sean Schellenger near Philadelphia's Rittenhouse Square. White's lawyers called the case a "confluence of race and class," citing alleged disparaging racial remarks Schellenger made during the confrontation.
According to White's attorney, Dan Stevenson, Schellenger said, "I'm going to beat the black off you" before the fight turned bloody.
A toxicology report later determined that 37-year-old Schellenger had a blood alcohol level of .199, more than double the legal limit to drive, and tested positive for cocaine.
At Tuesday's preliminary hearing, White's lawyers asked Municipal Court Judge Charles Hayden to drop the third-degree murder charges against White.
"This was a situation where a rich, white man using cocaine ... was in the process of taking White to the ground," Stevenson said. "It was not an aggressive move on White's part at all."
Hayden denied the request, but agreed to remove White off house arrest.
"This young man does seem to be someone who is going to follow the rules," Hayden said.
Schellenger's family praised the decision and thanked the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office. His mother, Linda Schellenger, said justice had been served.
Third-degree murder carries a possible maximum sentence of 20 to 40 years. White is also charged with voluntary manslaughter and possessing an instrument of crime.
Witness statements made during Tuesday's hearing described a verbal argument gone horribly wrong.
Schellenger had been out partying with friends and was traveling in a black Mercedes when the incident unfolded.
Earlier in the night, Schellenger had bumped into Philadelphia restaurateur William Jordan outside Rogue. They jumped into Jordan's Mercedes and were heading down Chancellor Street toward 17th Street when traffic came to a stop.
For reasons not revealed in court Tuesday, Schellenger got out of Jordan's car and exchanged words with the driver of a car that was idling in front of them.
White, who was working as a delivery man that night, road up on his red bicycle and "inserted himself" in the conversation, witness Erik Peterson, a server at a nearby restaurant, said.
Neither Peterson or Jordan heard what happened next, but both witnesses said White and Schellenger engaged, first verbally and then physically. Jordan said he heard White yell "Do you want this? You don't want this."
Schellenger advanced toward White, both Peterson and Jordan said in court. The former wrestler lowered his head and shoulders and grabbed White by the waist, lifting his feet off the ground.
"It looked his like he wanted to drop him in a wrestling move," Jordan said.
Jordan screamed for the two to stop fighting when he saw White retrieve a 6-inch black steel knife from his backpack.
Jordan will never know if Schellenger heard him. He continued to advance and tackled White to the ground as the knife came down into Schellenger's back.
Wounds were later found in his back ribs, left lung and aorta, according to the Philadelphia Medical Examiner's Office.
When it was over, White stood up, Jordan said. The knife was still in his hand.
"[White] looked shocked," Jordan, Schellenger's friend of 10 years, said in court.
White and Jordan looked at each other for several seconds, Jordan said, before the 21-year-old ran down Chancellor Street.
In the coming days, the Morgan State University student turned himself into police and cooperated with the district attorney's office. He even led them to his knife, Stevenson said.
Greg Thompson, a spokesman for White's family, said, the young man carried a weapon for protection because he often worked late into the night.
Outside the courthouse Tuesday, fellow couriers unfurled a banner in support of White. "Couriers in solidarity with Michael White," the banner read.
He will appear in court again next month.