Jurors remained undecided Wednesday after several hours of deliberating whether 22-year-old Michael White is guilty of voluntary manslaughter in the stabbing death of 37-year-old Sean Schellenger.
Philadelphia Common Pleas Judge Glenn B. Bronson sent the jury home when they couldn’t reach a verdict by the end of the day. They will resume deliberations Thursday morning.
White is facing one count of voluntary manslaughter, plus tampering, obstruction and weapons charges. The jury must vote unanimously to either convict or acquit White.
Voluntary manslaughter carries a maximum sentence of 10 to 20 years in prison.
The emotional four-day trial wrapped earlier in the day with lawyers from both sides presenting their closing arguments.
In her closing statement, Philadelphia Chief Public Defender Keir Bradford-Gray said the case "is about a lot of things: race, class."
"We can't negate that," she told jurors, adding that White was defending himself against a drunk and aggressive man 50 pounds heavier who threatened to "beat the black off him."
Assistant District Attorney Sherrell Dandy painted a very different picture for the jury during her closing argument, saying the "killing was not justified" and urging jurors to hold White "accountable" for Schellenger's death.
"This case is not about a white victim and a black defendant," she said. “[Schellenger] died for no reason.”
The 14-person jury, which includes two alternates, must decide whether White was justified in killing Schellenger and whether he intended for him to die. In order to convict White of voluntary manslaughter, prosecutors must prove beyond reasonable doubt that White did not act in self-defense.
"When people are attacked, they're allowed to defend themselves with force," Bradford-Gray said.
Dandy, however, argued that White did not retreat during his fight with Schellenger. Instead, White provoked the victim by calling him "a tough guy" and brandishing a knife.
"None of his actions said he was scared," Dandy said.
Both Dandy and Bradford-Gray rehashed key moments of the four-day trial during their closing statements. Dandy called mention of Schellenger's cocaine use, heavy drinking and prior arrests "victim bashing" and a "distraction" from his death.
Bradford-Gray echoed her client's testimony from Tuesday, calling White's actions a series of reactions stemming from his fear of Schellenger. White held his hand up in a stop motion and walked backwards away from Schellenger in an attempt to end the fight. Rather than leaving him alone, Schellenger attacked, she said.
"He tackled [White] to teach him a lesson," Bradford-Gray said.
White took the stand Tuesday, providing three hours of testimony in his own defense. He said the fight and killing happened in mere seconds, but the memory lingers.
"I cannot forget that night," he said Tuesday.
White said he was riding a red bicycle north along 17th Street near Rittenhouse Square on his way to deliver Popeyes chicken when he came across two stopped cars. The driver of a black Mercedes honked his horn at a gold Taurus idling in front of him, allegedly muttering a racial epithet in his frustration, White said in court Tuesday.
"I had no intention of killing anyone," he told jurors.
Prosecutor Anthony Voci, Jr., chief of the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office homicide unit, argued that White made a series of decisions that ultimately resulted in Schellenger's death.
”You could have pedaled away,” Voci said to White during cross examination.
White formally pleaded not guilty last week to all charges.