PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — A high-profile trial got underway in Philadelphia on Thursday. Opening statements wrapped in the trial of Michael White, who is accused of fatally stabbing Center City real estate developer Sean Schellenger in July 2018.
During opening statements, assistant district attorney Anthony Voci called White an aggressive killer by inserting himself into a traffic dispute at 17th and Chancellor Streets.
But during the defense’s opening statements, Schellenger was described as the aggressor. The defense told the jury Schellenger “threatened to beat the black off him,” when referring to White.
White is now facing voluntary manslaughter charges after a third-degree murder charge was downgraded earlier this week.
Witnesses say White, who is currently free on bail, was riding his bike as a courier on Chancellor Street in Rittenhouse Square, when he came across Schellenger.
The two men started to fight and witnesses say, that’s when White stabbed Schellenger in the back.
Those in the courtroom watched surveillance video that showed the moment Schellenger lifted White off of the ground and when White stabbed Schelleneger.
White is claiming self-defense and some religious leaders from Philadelphia are backing White’s claim.
“To be perfectly honest with you, I have a college son and my son was also a delivery person and I can’t imagine the trauma that his mother and father are going through right now,” Rev. Jeanette Davis said.
On Monday, Judge Glenn B. Bronnson granted a motion from Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner to drop a third-degree murder charge and proceed on voluntary manslaughter.
In the six-page motion, the district attorney said he believes a jury is more likely to convict White of voluntary manslaughter.
The motion outraged Schellenger’s mother.
“I said, ‘Manslaughter is already there, why wouldn’t we allow the jury to decide whether it’s third-degree murder or manslaughter?’ He said, ‘It’s my decision,’” Linda Schellenger said.
Supporters like religious leader Melanie Debous, say a lesser charge is justifiable.
“The charges have probably have not been reduced low enough but in the interest of fairness, this process has to be adjudicated so I’m glad to have this first step to have a reduction of charges,” she said.
As of now, the defense is planning to call Michael White to testify.
The trial is expected to last for at least one week.