A Philadelphia judge said Monday that he would not release the names of jurors in the recent Rittenhouse Square stabbing-death trial because doing so could subject panel members to threats, harassment, or other potential hazards.
Calling the case “highly unusual,” Common Pleas Court Judge Glenn B. Bronson rejected The Inquirer’s request to release the names. He cited a story published Friday, a day after the trial ended, that quoted relatives of both the victim, Sean Schellenger, and the defendant, Michael White, as saying they had received ugly threats or comments on social media.
If relatives were receiving threats, Bronson said during a hearing at the Stout Center for Criminal Justice, “I don’t see any reason why there would be any difference” for jurors.
None of the jurors has spoken publicly about their decision to find White not guilty of voluntary manslaughter for fatally stabbing Schellenger at 17th and Chancellor Streets in July 2018. They voted to convict him of tampering with evidence for tossing the knife onto a West Philadelphia rooftop, but cleared him of obstruction and possessing an instrument of crime.
Attorney Eli M. Segal, who represents The Inquirer, argued Monday that state law generally presumes that juror names should be made public unless a judge articulates specific reasons for keeping them secret.
In declining The Inquirer’s request, Bronson cited the potential for safety concerns. But he also said he would call members of the racially mixed panel and provide a way for them to contact the news organization if they wanted to speak about the verdict.
Segal said The Inquirer was satisfied with the ruling and would not appeal.
Anthony Voci, chief of the Homicide Unit in the District Attorney’s Office, said his office would not oppose Bronson’s decision. He initially told the judge prosecutors did not want the names released, citing the potential for intrusions by media representatives or others, and the possibility that future jurors would be discouraged from wanting to serve on a panel.
“I think there’s a potential for great harm,” Voci said.
White’s relatives said last week that they had received threatening or ugly comments on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and even Craigslist over the case. Speaking with reporters on Friday, they read from a screenshot image they said they took from Craigslist, in which an anonymous user posted that a white man had been “slaughtered” by a “black animal who was found not guilty."
Schellenger’s mother, Linda, also said Friday that she and her family have received hurtful messages and felt afraid for their safety.
White was found not guilty after three days of testimony before Bronson. Prosecutors had argued that White had unnecessarily injected himself into an argument between Schellenger and a motorist, then escalated the situation by pulling out a knife and stabbing Schellenger when Schellenger tried to tackle him.
White, 22, had claimed self-defense, telling jurors he was afraid for his safety when Schellenger, 37, sought to take him to the ground.