What to Know
- Philadelphia DA Larry Krasner's request to drop a third-degree murder charge against a former college student was granted.
- Michael White is still charged with voluntary manslaughter in the death of Sean Schellenger near Philadelphia's Rittenhouse Square.
- Jury selection began Monday.
A Philadelphia judge has accepted the district attorney's motion to drop a murder charge against a college student accused of stabbing and killing a real estate developer near Rittenhouse Square.
Michael White is accused of killing Sean Schellenger during the July 2018 confrontation.
In a Monday hearing prior to jury selection getting underway in the case, Common Pleas Judge Glenn B. Bronson dropped the most severe charge White faced. As part of the agreement, the judge added obstruction and tampering counts.
White's defense team also won't contest that a knife recovered by police on a rooftop was the instrument used in the killing.
Jury selection began with White seated next to his legal team flipping through questionnaires of potential jurors. Some jurors were dismissed after saying they had heard extensively about the case. By late Monday afternoon, a jury of 12 along with two alternates were seated.
On Friday, Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner filed a motion to drop 3rd-degree murder charges against the 22-year-old former college student.
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White remains charged with voluntary manslaughter in the death of Schellenger along S. 17th Street near the Warwick Hotel.
Voluntary manslaughter could carry a maximum sentence of 10 years, at least half the sentence for third-degree murder. The added obstruction and tampering counts each carry a maximum sentence of two years in prison.
Prosecutors said that the Schellenger family's personal attorney wished to speak before the judge made his decision. When the judge denied the family's request, Schellenger's mother and other family left the courtroom in tears.
White's lawyers have called the case a "confluence of race and class," citing disparaging racial remarks Schellenger allegedly 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.
The District Attorney's filing Friday seemed to reference those remarks, saying that "self-defense or acting under a sudden or intense passion from serious provocation" are defenses that White could have used against the third-degree murder charge.
The case was closely followed in Philadelphia.
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.
"This was a situation where a rich, white man using cocaine ... was in the process of taking White to the ground," said White's attorney, Stevenson, when he had asked in October 2018 that the murder charge be dismissed. "It was not an aggressive move on White's part at all."
Witness statements made during the 2018 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.
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 earlier in court.
White and Jordan looked at each other for several seconds, Jordan said, before the 21-year-old ran down Chancellor Street.
Later, 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.