Jurors in Michael White’s voluntary-manslaughter trial were scheduled to return to court Thursday to continue deliberating whether to convict him for fatally stabbing Sean Schellenger near Rittenhouse Square last year.
After about four hours behind closed doors Wednesday, the jury of eight women and four men told Common Pleas Court Judge Glenn B. Bronson that they needed more time to reach a verdict. Panel members gave no indication which way they might rule.
The main facts of White’s case were largely undisputed through the three days of testimony: During a brief and random encounter, witnesses have said, White stabbed Schellenger in the back as Schellenger tried to tackle him.
White, 22, admitted as much on the witness stand Tuesday. A cell-phone video played for the jury showed the pair’s physical struggle.
But during closing arguments Wednesday, prosecutors and defense lawyers offered two interpretations of those facts.
Assistant District Attorney Sherrell Dandy said White unnecessarily involved himself in a traffic dispute between Schellenger, 37, and other people he did not know, then escalated the situation by pulling out a knife.
Schellenger “died for no reason,” Dandy said. “This killing was not justified.”
White’s lawyers, meanwhile, said Schellenger was drunk and aggressive and had told White, “I’ll beat the black off you,” before charging and initiating physical contact. They contend that White’s actions were in self-defense and that he felt afraid for his safety.
“The only reason he acted the way that he did is he was in fear for his life,” said Chief Defender Keir Bradford-Grey.
No other witnesses reported hearing racial remarks before the scuffle.
White also faces charges of obstructing evidence after the crime for running from the scene, tossing the knife onto a roof in West Philadelphia, and discarding his bloody clothes.
As in previous days, the courtroom was packed Wednesday with supporters of both men, some of whom could be heard stifling tears as lawyers made their cases.
Schellenger’s relatives have criticized how the District Attorney’s Office has handled the case. Top prosecutor Larry Krasner twice downgraded charges against White, first saying his office would not pursue first-degree murder charges against him, and last week telling a judge that prosecutors also would not seek to convict him of third-degree murder.
Voluntary manslaughter carries a maximum prison sentence of 10 to 20 years.