Michael White, acquitted of voluntary manslaughter for fatally stabbing Sean Schellenger near Rittenhouse Square in 2018, was sentenced Thursday to two years’ probation for throwing the knife used in the killing onto a West Philadelphia rooftop after running away from the scene.
The imposition of the penalty by Common Pleas Court Judge Glenn B. Bronson is likely to mark the end of the criminal case against White, which had attracted widespread attention for seeming to touch on issues that have long divided the city, such as race, class, and opportunity.
White, 22, was convicted of evidence tampering at his October trial, the lone charge jurors lodged against him after he testified that he had stabbed Schellenger, a real estate developer, in self-defense during a confrontation at 17th and Chancellor Streets. In addition to tossing the knife, White, who had been working as a bicycle food courier, threw his backpack and a bloody T-shirt into a trash can.
White’s sentence fell within the guidelines for the misdemeanor crime, and Bronson noted that White ultimately cooperated with authorities after discarding the evidence.
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White told Bronson that he realizes disposing of the evidence “wasn’t the right thing to do” and that after he turned himself in, he told his lawyers where he had tossed the items. Police later recovered the knife from the roof.
Although many sentencing hearings feature testimony from the victim or the victim’s relatives, Bronson had ruled that Schellenger’s family members would not be allowed to describe how the incident has affected them, because prosecutors did not prove that White’s stabbing of Schellenger was a crime.
His decision upset the Schellengers, who also have frequently criticized District Attorney Larry Krasner over his office’s handling of the case.
Schellenger’s relatives did not attend the sentencing hearing. In a statement sent to reporters, his mother, Linda Schellenger, said: “Our life sentence began on July 12, 2018, when Sean was fatally stabbed with a deadly weapon.”
She called the sentencing “hopefully, the last episode in Krasner’s finely orchestrated obstruction of justice,” repeating a charge she has previously made against the DA. “Sean Schellenger was intelligent, articulate, successful and kind and no one can ever take those qualities away from him or us!” she wrote.
Bronson said in court Thursday that Schellenger’s death “was a senseless and tragic event.”
“He meant a great deal to his family,” the judge said.
Krasner’s office initially charged White with a general count of murder — which allows prosecutors to seek a possible life sentence — but downgraded the case to third-degree murder, and then proceeded at trial on the lower charge of voluntary manslaughter, which carries a maximum prison sentence of 10 to 20 years.
Jurors voted to acquit White of that charge, as well as counts of possessing an instrument of crime and obstruction.
Last month, one of White’s lawyers, Chief Defender Keir Bradford-Grey, suggested that coverage of the case by Fox News host Tucker Carlson, who interviewed Linda Schellenger several times, had led to death threats against White. Linda Schellenger denied seeking to incite threats of violence and called Bradford-Grey’s behavior “malicious” and unnecessarily personal.
White and Schellenger did not know each other before crossing paths in July 2018.
According to trial testimony, White got involved in a dispute with Schellenger, who had been out celebrating with friends, and White plunged the knife into Schellenger’s back after Schellenger tried to tackle him.
White pulled the blade out of Schellenger before fleeing to West Philadelphia, where he tossed the knife onto a roof and his backpack and T-shirt into a trash can, he testified.
White told reporters after the hearing that the saga was not yet behind him due to his probation. But he said he was praying for the Schellengers, and wants to focus on being “the person I always envisioned myself to be.”
“I just take it one day at a time,” White said. “I just want to live my life.”
Bradford-Grey said White has been supported by many community members since the stabbing. One of them, Andrea Lawful-Sanders, told Bronson that she has been connecting White with young men to mentor.