Judge Shuts Down Defense’s First Amendment Claim, Allows Racist Facebook Page as Evidence in Fatal Stabbing of Richard Collins III

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A Maryland judge will allow racist memes and a racist Facebook page as evidence in the trial of a white man charged with fatally stabbing a Black man on the University of Maryland campus in 2017.

Prince George’s County Circuit Court Judge Lawrence Hill Jr. made the ruling Wednesday despite the defense’s request to exclude the damning evidence at Sean Ubanski’s trial next month, according to The Associated Press.

Sean Urbanski
Sean Urbanski (right) is charged with first-degree murder in the killing of Bowie State student Richard Collins III. (Images courtesy of the Collins family and the U-Md. Police Department.)

The 24–year–old faces a first-degree murder and hate crime charge in the May 2017 killing of Bowie State University student Richard Collins III, who was visiting with friends at the University of Maryland campus. Urbanski stabbed the newly commissioned Army lieutenant as he waited for a ride.

Attorneys for the accused murderer argued their client would be deprived of his right to a fair trial if a jury was shown evidence that he “liked” posts on the “Alt-Reich: Nation” Facebook page, and had “particularly offensive” memes stashed on his phone, The Army Times reported. One of the images reportedly called for violence against African-Americans, while anothers featured photos of a noose, poison and a handgun.

Urbanski’s lawyers claimed the evidence was inflammatory, irrelevant and  inadmissible at trial, however, prosecutors for Prince George’s County said it proved Urbanski had targeted Collins because of his race.

“These photographs show that the defendant has a bias against black people,” deputy state’s attorney Jason Abbott said. “These photos show violence against black people.”

Still, the defense insisted the memes had “no connection” to the stabbing and noted that “possessing racially insensitive material is not against the law.”

Hill saw things differently and quashed Urbanski’s attorneys argument that the memes and now-deleted Facebook page were constitutionally-protected speech. The judge also denied their request to dismiss the hate crime charge on First Amendment grounds.

“Every person has a right of freedom of speech,” Hill said. “The defendant is not here for a violation of freedom of speech.”

Prosecutors said Collins was with friends and waiting for an Uber around 3 a.m. when Urbanski approached and said, “Step left — step left if you know what’s good to you.” When the Bowie State student didn’t budge, Urbanski stabbed him with a folding knife in what police described as a completely “unprovoked” attack.

The former University of Maryland student fled the scene but was later apprehended by police.

According to the defense, police said Urbanski was “extremely” drunk at the time of the stabbing and was screaming incoherently when he approached Collins and his two friends: a white man and an Asian woman.

Prosecutors believe Collins was targeted because he was the only African-American and noted that Urbanski had separately ordered the white friend and Asian friend to “step aside.”

“Then, he goes straight for Lt. Collins and stabs him in the chest,”  Assistant State’s Attorney Jonathan Church said.

Church added that the racist memes taken from Urbanski’s phone were  saved in a folder that also contained “intimate” photos of the defendant  with his friends and family.

“They are about who he is and what he is about,” the prosecutor said.

Urbanski’s trial is scheduled to begin in late July.

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