What to Know
- Michael White stabbed Sean Schellenger after a violent fight in Rittenhouse Square July 12, 2018.
- White’s lawyers said he acted in self-defense after Schellenger attacked him and said a racial slur.
- The jury deliberated for about 8 years over two days before reaching a verdict.
Tears and sobs erupted as a Philadelphia jury found 22-year-old Michael White not guilty of voluntary manslaughter for the stabbing death of Sean Schellenger in Rittenhouse Square last year.
Schellenger's loved ones turned their ire onto Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner, who agreed to lower White's 3rd-degree murder charges earlier this month.
"I would like Mr. Krasner arrested for obstruction of justice," Schellenger's mother, Linda Schellenger, said in front of both the judge and jury. "He has blood on his hands."
The explosive scene unfolded just seconds after the jury announced its verdict. Bronson warned the victim's mother to stop talking, but she continued.
"I hope you're all very proud of Michael for what he's done," she said to the defendant's family.
White was found not guilty on weapons and obstruction charges. He was found guilty, however, on one count of tampering with evidence.
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Krasner issued a statement a few hours after the verdict came down, defending his decision to reduce the charges.
His office determined higher charges "were inappropriate to pursue as our investigation continued and gathered new information," he said in the statement. "Simply put, we followed the facts and the law in seeking justice."
White's mother, Juanita White, said she was "thankful" for the jury's verdict.
"I'm happy," she said.
To the Schellenger family she added, "I'm sorry for your loss and I'm praying."
White said nothing as he left court surrounded by loved ones.
Jurors reached their decision Thursday after roughly 8 hours of deliberating whether White intended for Schellenger to die when he stabbed him in the back during a violent scuffle.
In the end, the 12-person jury found that prosecutors had not met their burden of proving beyond a reasonable doubt that White acted in anything but self-defense.
The case was closely watched throughout Philadelphia, highlighting issues well beyond the crime itself. Supporters for the Schellenger family protested outside the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office last week after Krasner lowered White's 3rd-degree charge.
Schellenger’s family also accused the DA’s office of victim blaming, a complaint that resurfaced throughout the trial from prosecutors themselves. Dandy said White’s defense team emphasized the victim’s behavior more than his death. Schellenger’s cocaine use, heavy drinking and even past fights were introduced as evidence against the one person who could not defend himself in court, Assistant District Attorney Sherrell Dandy said during closing statements.
But White's supporters argued that he feared for his life after Schellenger threatened to "beat the black off him." Character witnesses said he had a reputation for being peaceful and honest. Many people said they knew him from his work with the Philadelphia Poetry Youth Movement.
Philadelphia Chief Public Defender Keir Bradford-Gray went furhter, saying the case was "about a lot of things: race, class."
"We can't negate that," she said during closing arguments Wednesday.
Dandy attempted to paint a very different picture 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.”
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.
White is due back in court Dec. 6 for his sentencing hearing on the tampering with evidence conviction.