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An Instagram Follow Nearly Sends Philly Murder Suspect to Jail Before Trial

Michael White, now 22, is accused of stabbing and killing Sean Schellenger near Rittenhouse Square on July 12, 2018.

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    Instagram Follow Leads to Bail Hearing for Murder Suspect

    A battle over tmurder suspect Michael White's Instagram actions played out in a Philadelphia courtroom Friday. At issue was an attempted follow by White of the brother of Sean Schellenger, the real estate developer the 22-year-old is accused of stabbing to death near Rittenhouse Square last summer.

    (Published Friday, Aug. 23, 2019)

    An Instagram follow nearly landed a 22-year-old man accused of stabbing and killing a real estate developer last summer behind bars as he awaits trial.

    Michael White is facing third-degree murder charges in the July 12, 2018, death of Sean Schellenger near Philadelphia's Rittenhouse Square.

    On Friday, White returned to court over what Philadelphia District Attorney's Office spokesman Cameron Kline called concerns over White's "social media activity."

    Michael White speaks with family before turning himself over to police in the stabbing death of a real estate developer in the city's Rittenhouse section. See Larger
    Photo credit: NBC10

    At Friday's bail hearing, prosecutors said White attempted to follow Schellenger's brother, Justin, on his personal Instagram account on Tuesday, which could have violated a no-contact order that is a term of his bail.

    The defense argued that White had no intention of following Justin Schellenger.

    White's family and the Schellenger family are connected on social media since last year, the defense said. Schellenger's family has posted onto White's Instagram in the past and attempted up to recently to connect on social media. The defense, however, didn't show proof of Justin Schellenger's follow requests.

    It's possible White got a suggestion to follow Justin Schellenger but that he had no recollection of it and didn't intentionally seek out the follow, the defense said.

    White also said there was an unknown log-in on his device that he didn't recognize.

    Judge Glenn Bronson gave White the benefit of the doubt and decided to not rescind bail. He suggested White stay off Instagram for a while. There will be a zero-tolerance policy moving forward.

    White remained out on bail as he awaits trial, which is scheduled to start in October.

    Last year, White's lawyers called the case a "confluence of race and class," citing alleged disparaging racial remarks Schellenger made during the confrontation.

    According to White's attorney, Dan Stevenson, Schellenger said, "I'm going to beat the black off you" before the fight near tony Rittenhouse Square turned bloody.

    A toxicology report later determined that 37-year-old Schellenger had a blood alcohol level of .199, more than double the legal limit to drive, and tested positive for cocaine.

    Last year, White's lawyers asked Municipal Court Judge Charles Hayden to drop the third-degree murder charges against White.

    "This was a situation where a rich, white man using cocaine ... was in the process of taking White to the ground," Stevenson said. "It was not an aggressive move on White's part at all."

    Hayden denied the request, but agreed to remove White off house arrest at that time.

    "This young man does seem to be someone who is going to follow the rules," Hayden said. 

    Schellenger's family praised the decision and thanked the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office. His mother, Linda Schellenger, said justice had been served.

    Third-degree murder carries a possible maximum sentence of 20 to 40 years. White is also charged with voluntary manslaughter and possessing an instrument of crime.

    Witness statements made during last fall's hearing described a verbal argument gone horribly wrong.

    Sean Schellenger. See Larger
    Photo credit: Courtesy of Streamline Philly

    Schellenger had been out partying with friends and was traveling in a black Mercedes when the incident unfolded.

    Earlier in the night, Schellenger had bumped into Philadelphia restaurateur William Jordan outside Rogue. They jumped into Jordan's Mercedes and were heading down Chancellor Street toward 17th Street when traffic came to a stop.

    For reasons not yet revealed in court, Schellenger got out of Jordan's car and exchanged words with the driver of a car that was idling in front of them. 

    White, who was working as a delivery man that night, road up on his red bicycle and "inserted himself" in the conversation, witness Erik Peterson, a server at a nearby restaurant, said.

    Neither Peterson nor Jordan heard what happened next, but both witnesses said White and Schellenger engaged, first verbally and then physically. Jordan said he heard White yell "Do you want this? You don't want this."

    Schellenger advanced toward White, both Peterson and Jordan said in court. The former wrestler lowered his head and shoulders and grabbed White by the waist, lifting his feet off the ground.

    "It looked his like he wanted to drop him in a wrestling move," Jordan said. 

    Jordan screamed for the two to stop fighting when he saw White retrieve a 6-inch black steel knife from his backpack.

    Jordan will never know if Schellenger heard him. He continued to advance and tackled White to the ground as the knife came down into Schellenger's back.

    Wounds were later found in his back ribs, left lung and aorta, according to the Philadelphia Medical Examiner's Office.

    When it was over, White stood up, Jordan said. The knife was still in his hand.

    "[White] looked shocked," Jordan, Schellenger's friend of 10 years, said in court.

    White and Jordan looked at each other for several seconds, Jordan said, before the 21-year-old ran down Chancellor Street.

    In the coming days, the Morgan State University student turned himself into police and cooperated with the district attorney's office. He even led them to his knife, Stevenson said. 

    Greg Thompson, a spokesman for White's family, said, the young man carried a weapon for protection because he often worked late into the night.

    No one involved in the case spoke after Friday's hearing as a gag order remained in place.