The parents of the city developer fatally stabbed near Rittenhouse Square last month say they feel let down by District Attorney Larry Krasner, who announced Wednesday that his office would not seek to try the accused killer for first-degree murder and instead would pursue lower charges.
Mark Schellenger, in text messages to the Inquirer and Daily News, said Thursday that he had "mistakenly believed" that Krasner would advocate for his slain son, Sean, and added: "Mr. Krasner is out to further his own career and agenda with my son's blood."
Meanwhile, the victim's mother, Linda Schellenger, said in a statement to 6abc on Wednesday night that she believed Krasner had turned him into a "political pawn."
"I thought it outrageous, and I was manipulated by Larry Krasner," Linda Schellenger said. "He was intellectually dishonest."
The rebukes from the victim's parents — who are divorced — came a day after Krasner said he did not believe enough evidence existed to charge Michael White with first-degree murder in the fatal stabbing of Sean Schellenger on Chancellor Street on July 12. The decision is likely to spare White, 21, a mandatory life sentence and allow him to be released on bail by early next week.
Ben Waxman, a spokesperson for Krasner, said prosecutors had met with Schellenger's relatives before Wednesday's hearing and would continue working with them as the case proceeds through court. White — accused of killing Schellenger during a quarrel on the street — has a preliminary hearing scheduled for Oct. 30.
The aftermath of White's court appearance Wednesday is the latest ripple in a case that has attracted intense attention. Dozens of friends and relatives of White and Schellenger packed the courtroom Wednesday, and Krasner acknowledged that he attended because the case had the potential to be "divisive."
Linda Schellenger, in her statement, said that prosecutors have "clear video footage that would have allowed them to hold [White]" on a charge of first-degree murder without bail. She accused Krasner of showing up at the hearing "for political purposes," and added: "I wanted to trust [Krasner]. He breached and abused that trust."
Reached by phone Thursday morning, she and a family spokesperson, Anthony Reagoso, both declined to elaborate.
Waxman said that the district attorney and other top officials met with Linda Schellenger for more than two hours prior to the hearing.
"They explained in detail why our office did not feel that there was evidence to substantiate a first-degree murder charge," Waxman said in an email.
Mark Schellenger said Thursday that he had participated in that meeting by phone and felt that Krasner "gave no specifics" about how White might be allowed to make bail after dropping the most serious count. The decision to set White's bail at $150,000 — which will enable his release from jail by paying 10 percent of that — led Mark Schellenger to think Krasner believes "Sean's life is worth a measly 15k," he said.
"Sean is the victim and can't speak for himself," Mark Schellenger said. "We mistakenly believed that the district attorney would be his advocate."
Waxman declined to respond to that criticism, but said that Linda Schellenger's statement was "starkly different from what Mrs. Schellenger repeatedly said in person and by telephone days before, as well as during and after the preliminary hearing." Although she had not commented publicly about the legal proceedings, Linda Schellenger, at a vigil for her son last month and to 6abc earlier this week, had said that two lives were affected by the crime, referring to her son's death and White's imprisonment.
"We respect her right to change her mind," Waxman said. "We intend to reach out to her again in the near future and look forward to further in-depth communications with her."
Krasner said Wednesday that the office had decided to proceed on counts of third-degree murder, voluntary manslaughter, and possessing an instrument of crime, but not first-degree murder. Krasner said the office still was investigating and may decide to drop the third-degree-murder count as well.
Third-degree murder is generally defined as trying to harm someone but not intending to kill, while voluntary manslaughter often is referred to as a "heat-of-passion" killing that occurs after being provoked.
First-degree murder requires prosecutors to prove that the defendant intended to kill the victim and carries a mandatory sentence of life in prison without parole.
Police have said White stabbed Schellenger once in the back after the two began arguing on Chancellor Street around 10:50 p.m. White had been working as a bicycle courier for Uber Eats when he encountered Schellenger, who had been in a Mercedes-Benz with two other men but had gotten out to try to get a car in front of theirs to move, according to police.
White ran away after the stabbing but surrendered to police a day later.
Greg Thompson, a spokesperson for White's relatives, has said that White acted in self-defense. Mark Schellenger said Thursday that White "ran, got rid of the weapon and clothing."
"He left Sean to die," Mark Schellenger said. "Not exactly the actions of someone defending himself."
The decision to drop the most serious count Wednesday was embraced by White's supporters, who held public events this week calling for Krasner to downgrade the case and allow White to be released on bail.
Advocacy groups including the Philadelphia Bail Fund and Philadelphia Community Bail Fund said Thursday that they had posted enough bail money to allow White to be released into house arrest.