How an Inquirer photographer got an exclusive photo of Michael White after he was found not guilty

Every Monday, we present a gallery of recent pictures taken by our staff photojournalists — and tell you the story behind one of them. This week staff photographer Tom Gralish tells how he made an exclusive photo of Michael White after his not-guilty verdict.

Michael White looks toward the Criminal Justice Center October 17, 2019 as he takes the elevator to his car in the parking garage after a jury found him not guilty of voluntary manslaughter in the fatal stabbing of real estate developer Sean Schellenger.
TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer
Michael White looks toward the Criminal Justice Center October 17, 2019 as he takes the elevator to his car in the parking garage after a jury found him not guilty of voluntary manslaughter in the fatal stabbing of real estate developer Sean Schellenger.

One of the advantages of having photographers on your newspaper staff is that you do things like send them to cover out-of-town Eagles games from a unique Philadelphia angle. You can also commit them to waiting outside a courthouse to photograph the principals in a criminal trial that attracted widespread attention for seeming to exemplify the city’s long-standing tensions over race and class.

This week, as the not-guilty verdict was handed down by the jury in the manslaughter case of Michael White, staff photographer Tom Gralish was dispatched to join fellow staffers Jessica Griffin and Heather Khalifa already on the scene, covering the three exits from the Criminal Justice Center. Working as the backup, Gralish left the scrum of cameras and reporters after taking a few photos as White walked out of the building. “I played a hunch,” he said. “I knew there was only one parking lot in the direction he was headed, so I made a split-second decision and ran ahead and went inside.”

When White and his public defender left the rest of the media outside to go into the garage, Gralish was already there, with his camera. “His lawyer made a comment about my presence,” Gralish said, but he told her, “I’m going to my car. I parked on the fifth floor.” As White rode the elevator up, Gralish started taking pictures. “They didn’t object,” he said, as he captured White looking down at the media and the building where he had spent the past two weeks.

When the elevator arrived at their floor, Gralish stepped out and made another photo when they realized it was the wrong level, and headed toward the stairs. He didn’t follow them — he’d already made enough pictures — but caught the next elevator to continue up to his car on the fifth floor. He got out as White and his attorney emerged from the stairwell. “Just don’t take a picture of my license plate,” the attorney told him, as Gralish replied not to worry, beeping the alarm on his car, parked right in front of them. “I told them I hadn’t lied,” he said as he walked to his car while they continued on to theirs.

” SEE MORE: Last week’s staff photo gallery and the staff photography page

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