The city’s top public defender suggested during a court hearing Monday that television interviews and social media posts by supporters of Sean Schellenger, who was fatally stabbed last year near Rittenhouse Square, had led to death threats against Michael White, the 22-year-old acquitted of voluntary manslaughter in the killing.
The suggestion, made by Chief Defender Keir Bradford-Grey, incensed Schellenger’s parents, who were sitting in the gallery at an otherwise routine hearing in White’s case.
Mark Schellenger, the victim’s father, rose and challenged Bradford-Grey to show proof to back up her claim. “Produce it,” he said before grabbing his coat and storming out of the room, then returning later.
Meanwhile, the victim’s mother, Linda Schellenger, told Common Pleas Court Judge Glenn B. Bronson that her family would never seek to incite such behavior against White. While leaving the courthouse, Linda Schellenger excoriated Bradford-Grey, calling her behavior “malicious” and an unnecessarily personal attack.
“She is a disgrace,” Linda Schellenger said of Bradford-Grey, who declined to comment after the hearing.
The case has been marked by controversy. In October, a jury found White not guilty of voluntary manslaughter for fatally stabbing Schellenger during a confrontation at 17th and Chancellor Streets in July 2018. The men did not know each other, but crossed paths when White, a bicycle food courier, got involved in a dispute with Schellenger, a real estate developer out celebrating with friends.
White testified at trial that Schellenger tried to tackle him, and that he plunged the knife into Schellenger’s back in self-defense.
White was convicted of tampering with evidence for throwing the knife onto a West Philadelphia rooftop and is awaiting sentencing on that charge, which is why his case was back in court Monday. Bronson, the judge, approved a request by Assistant District Attorney Anthony Voci to have White’s mental health evaluated before the sentencing hearing. White is now scheduled to be sentenced next month.
Bradford-Grey and her co-counsel, Jonathan Strange, had opposed delaying sentencing any further, in part because they said White has feared for his safety since the trial. Each said White had received death threats, and specifically referred to coverage of the case by Fox News host Tucker Carlson, who has interviewed Linda Schellenger several times.
White’s relatives and the Schellengers all said after the trial that they had been subjected to threats and harassment online.
Monday’s hearing again got emotional when Bronson told Voci he was unsure if he could allow Schellenger’s relatives to testify at White’s sentencing hearing because White had been acquitted of the manslaughter charge. When Bronson said the Schellengers were “not a victim of” the evidence-tampering count, Linda Schellenger fell to her side in tears onto the courtroom bench on which she was seated.
Lawyers are scheduled to argue later this month on whether Schellenger’s relatives may testify at the sentencing.