Michael White returned on Sunday to the Pentecostal church where he had sought refuge in July 2018 and had surrendered to police.
He spoke publicly for the first time since he was found not guilty Thursday of voluntary manslaughter in the fatal stabbing of Sean Schellenger near Rittenhouse Square. White, 22, addressed the congregation of the True Gospel Tabernacle Family Church at 16th and Mifflin Streets in South Philadelphia.
“I thank God for bringing me through this situation,” said a somber White, speaking from a podium. “It wouldn’t have happened without your prayers.”
White walked into the church accompanied by his uncle Quinnell Armstrong and aunt Tanya White Armstrong as the choir rendered an embracing “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms.” White, shy and contrite, was greeted by Bishop Ernest McNear and the congregation with warm applause.
He took responsibility for the homicide.
“Me being free is kinda bittersweet because on the other side of this someone lost their life,” White said. “I never wanted that to happen. I’m the person who is technically responsible for that. I hope the family finds a sense of peace. All I can do is move on with my life and hope they’re able to do the same.”
In a brief phone interview Sunday evening, Linda Schellenger, Sean’s mother, called White’s church appearance “a charade” and “a big show to clear the conscience,” and his comments there “empty words.”
“Our position is he’s a killer,” she said. "He has blood on his hands and always will.”
Bishop McNear and his wife, Barbara, then led the congregation through “I Got a Feeling Everything is Going to be Alright.”
White had been working as a bicycle food courier on July 12, 2018 when he was riding through the Rittenhouse Square neighborhood. At 17th and Chancellor Streets, about 11 p.m., he randomly encountered Schellenger arguing with another man who had blocked Chancellor with a beige car.
According to witness testimony, White got off his red bike and became embroiled in the altercation.
White pulled out a knife from his backpack. He held up his left hand as if signaling to stop. Schellenger charged and attempted to tackle him. White stabbed Schellenger in the back.
White’s lawyer said he had acted in self-defense. White testified that Schellenger had told him, “I’ll beat the black off you,” during the confrontation.
White’s three-day trial garnered widespread attention in part because it seemed to highlight the city’s fault lines of race and class.
White was acquitted Thursday by a racially mixed jury of voluntary manslaughter, obstruction, and possession of an instrument of crime. The jury did convict him of tampering with evidence for throwing the knife onto a rooftop. He will be sentenced on the tampering count in December.