The jury has spoken, and I accept it.
The verdict on Michael White, I mean, acquitted of voluntary manslaughter.
I accept it, but that doesn’t mean I like it.
The same with O.J. Simpson, George Zimmerman and other questionable jury results.
Our decision-by-jury process is imperfect, but better than any other.
But something is sticking in my craw about the Michael White case, a feeling that something was wrong. Maybe not with the jury, but with D.A. Larry Krasner.
Something is fishy here. I suspect Krasner had an occupational flashback and was reliving his decades as a defense attorney who hated cops — and prosecutors.
A year ago, when Krasner decided against charging Michael White with first-degree murder, I was with him.
Of course you remember the case: Sean Schellenger, a 37-year-old Point Breeze developer, was stabbed to death by White, 21, a food deliveryman and student during an altercation near Rittenhouse Square.
It didn’t seem like premeditated murder, and Krasner said cell phone video — now seen by jurors but not by the public — was pretty clear in ruling out first-degree.
We are going with the evidence. OK.
Then, shortly before the trial began, Krasner suddenly withdrew charges of third-degree murder, leaving only voluntary manslaughter as a main charge. Based on what evidence, I wondered. What had changed?
Linda Schellenger, the victim’s mother, was understandably outraged. Both murder and manslaughter charges should be on the table, she said. Let the jury decide.
I agreed with the mother in a column and speculated that leaving it to the jury seemed to be exactly what Krasner wanted to avoid.
I was on to something, but missed Krasner’s slick trick because I am not a lawyer. The trick wasn’t just reducing the possible penalty for the crime. Third-degree carries a 20-40 year jail term while voluntary manslaughter is just 10-20 years. Throwing out third-degree murder was more insidious than just changing the possible sentence.
Krasner said he thought he had a better chance of getting a conviction on the voluntary manslaughter charge. The opposite is true, in the opinion of several defense attorneys, two of whom were willing to be quoted.
Third-degree murder has a relatively low bar, with no specific intent to kill being required for conviction. Voluntary manslaughter, on the other hand, is usually considered a “heat of passion” crime with self-defense being a reliable defense. Krasner surely knew White’s excellent legal team was going to use a self-defense tactic. He gift wrapped it for his former(?) defense colleagues.
“He didn’t want to see Michael White convicted of third-degree, the more likely outcome,” said Chuck Peruto, the veteran barrister with hundreds of trials under his belt.
Another defense attorney, William Ciancaglini (who is the Republican candidate for mayor) said, “I think [Krasner] wanted to impose his decision on this case.”
Neither wished to comment on the verdict itself because they had not sat through the trial.
Ciancaglini said he would have accepted a jury’s not-guilty verdict on first- or third-degree charges in this case, “but the jury did not get to decide this.”
He agreed with the victim’s mother that the jury should have been presented with both charges. It could have selected which one best fit the crime, he said. “That’s what juries do.”
The White jury was prevented from doing that.
If you don’t like the outcome, don’t blame the jury.
Blame the D.A. He sabotaged the jurors.