Jury selection began Monday in the trial of a white University of Maryland student accused of murdering an African-American Bowie State University student in 2017.
Sean Urbanksi, 25, faces life in prison for fatally stabbing Richard Collins III in what prosecutors say was a hate crime. Close to 100 potential jurors were screened this week with questions on race, alcohol and other factors related to the tragic case.
Collins was visiting friends at the UMD campus when Urbanski, a stranger who prosecutors say had a disdain for Blacks, plunged a folding knife into the young man’s chest as he waited for a ride. The suspect had warned the newly commissioned Army lieutenant to “step left, if you know what’s good for you,” then stabbed Collins when he refused.
After the attack, Urbanski reportedly slipped the weapon back in his pocket and waited on a bench until authorities arrived. Meanwhile, his victim lay dying on the ground nearby.
Prosecutors would discover racist memes on the suspect’s cellphone, along with his ties to a right-wing Facebook group called the Alt Reich Nation. One of the memes, prosecutors say, “advocates for violence against Blacks” while another featured an image of a noose.
For prosecutors, the evidence (which the defense tried to have excluded from trial) bolsters their argument that Urbanski was biased and targeted Collins because of his race. Defense lawyers deny that, however, saying it was a drunken attack turned deadly.
According to CBS Baltimore, Judge Lawrence Hill on Monday asked the jury pool several questions on race, including whether they believed people who cracked racist jokes or sent racist memes were racist. A majority of the potential jurors agreed.
Jurors were also asked about alcoholism and alcohol use. The defense argues Urbanski was heavily intoxicated at the time of the attack, pointing to witnesses who told police the suspect was drunk and yelling incoherently when he approached Collins and his friends that night in May 2017.
The Bowie State student was with a white male and an Asian female when he was fatally stabbed, days before he was set to graduate. Prosecutors plan to argue Collins was targeted because he was the only African-American at the bus stop.
In addition to the evidence found on Urbanski’s phone, prosecutors plan to present 911 calls, eyewitnesses and surveillance footage of the stabbing at trial.
The suspect is charged with first-degree murder and a hate crime in Collins’ death. If convicted, he faces life behind bars.
Opening statements in the trial are scheduled to begin Wednesday.