Charges in Rittenhouse Square murder reduced, supporters post bail
Supporters of Michael White, who say he was acting in self-defense when he allegedly killed a Philly developer, supported the move.
The suspect in the Rittenhouse Square murder posted bail and was expected to be released Wednesday after a judge agreed to reduce charges based on evidence the slaying was in self-defense.
DA Larry Krasner's office withdrew first-degree murder charges against Michael White, 21, in the July 12 fatal stabbing of Sean Schellenger, 37, during a hearing at the Criminal Justice Center. Charges were reduced from first-degree murder to third-degree murder and voluntary manslaughter.
"He shouldn't have been charged with first-degree murder in the first place," said Reuben Jones, an organizer with the Philadelphia Community Bail Fund (PCBF), a group that raises funds to bail out people of color and poor people who are being detained pretrial. PCBF worked with the Philadelphia Bail Fund, a similar group, to raise 10 percent of White's $150,000 bail, set by Judge Charles Hayden after Wednesday's hearing.
As of press-time, Jones expected White to be released on bail to house arrest by the end of the day.
"We felt that it was an urgent matter because of his age, his status as a college student, because he was an upstanding member of the community being traumatized by being held in jail prior to trial," Jones said. "We posted this bail so he would not continue to be traumatized by this experience and he would be able to return to his family, to continue to defend his case from home."
White, 20, was working as a bike courier delivering food at the time he encountered Schellenger, who was in a car with friends, at 17th and Chancellor streets around 10:50 p.m. on July 12.
The incident has attracted national attention as supporters of White have claimed he acted in self-defense, and that Schellenger was the aggressor during the fight.
Under circumstances that are not entirely clear, an altercation broke out between the two men, as Schellenger had reportedly gotten out of his vehicle just prior to the incident. One witness reportedly said Schellenger tackled White, and White allegedly fatally stabbed him in the back before fleeing.
White surrendered to authorities within days and has reportedly cooperated with the investigation, for example helping them find the knife he allegedly used and hid on a nearby rooftop, according to the Philadelphia Tribune.
After news of the Rittenhouse Square murder and White's role in it broke, supporters of White took to social media to claim that he was acting in self-defense and to claim he is the "true victim." White is an engineering student at Morgan University in Baltimore who grew up in Philadelphia and is interested in poetry, according to a Gofundme page he started to fundraise tuition money. In the past he has faced charges of marijuana possession and was entered into a misdemeanor diversionary program.
Schellenger, of Point Breeze, was a former Penn State quarterback and CEO of Streamline Solutions who was remembered after his death by family and friends as a pillar of the community. He had a record of past arrests in 2001 for burglary and resisting arrest in Chester County, in 2008 for battery in Florida, and in 2009 for disorderly conduct in Chester County.
DA Krasner's office reportedly has cell phone video of the incident in their possession but has not shared it publicly.
"This is an office that follows the evidence where it leads," Krasner told media outside court after the hearing.
White's preliminary hearing was continued to Oct. 30.
He has been detained since surrendering to authorities after the slaying. As of press-time, Jones said PCBF was expecting White's release from Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility, and expected to be released on Thursday to house arrest pending trial.
"He'll get a warm welcome," Jones said.