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Former University of Maryland Student Found Guilty in Black Army Officer’s Murder a Day After Judge Drops Hate Crime Charge

Sean Urbanski, the former University of Maryland student on trial for the fatal stabbing of African-American Bowie State student Richard Collins III, was convicted on murder charges Wednesday.

A jury found Urbanksi guilty of first-degree murder in the May 2017 incident after some two hours of deliberation, the verdict coming one day after a judge dropped the hate crime charge against the defendant.

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.)

Collins, a newly commissioned Army lieutenant, was visiting friends at the College Park campus when a drunken Urbanski, 25, walked up and stabbed him as he waited at a bus stop. Prince George’s County prosecutors argued the attack was racially motivated, saying the young white man had targeted Collins because he was Black.

At trial, prosecutors also pointed to Urbanski’s ties to a fringe Facebook group called the “Alt Reich Nation” and racist memes discovered on the defendant’s cell phone. One of images, prosecutors said, “advocates for violence against Blacks” while another featured an image of a noose.

However, Judge Lawrence Hill ruled Tuesday that the state failed to meet its burden of proof that the stabbing was solely driven by race and moved to drop the hate crime charge against Urbanski. The decision was a major blow to Collins’ family and supporters. According to CBS Baltimore, Collins’ mother collapsed at news of the judge’s decision.

Charles James Sr. was among those who traveled from Annapolis to watch the proceedings and said he was “hurt” by Hill’s move to dismiss the hate charge. 

“I’ll be honest with you. I’m kind of disgusted,” James told the station.

By the next day, prosecutors would interpret the swift verdict as the mostly African-American jury’s repudiation of the judge’s decision on the hate crime charge.

“They weren’t out long because it was plain what happened here,” Prince George’s County State’s Attorney Aisha Braveboy said to the Washington Post. “We know there are people out there who cannot tolerate a black man in that position.”

Attorneys for Urbanski said he 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.

“We believe there’s no evidence of a race-based killing,” defense attorney John McKenna told the judge, adding, “He didn’t single out Richard Collins as the state indicated.” 

A forensic toxicologist called by the defense estimated the suspect’s blood alcohol content was two to three times the legal limit at the time of the fatal stabbing.

The jury would not find Urbanski’s intoxication as a mitigating element in his crime. First-degree murder carries a maximum penalty of life in prison without possibility of parole in Maryland, a punishment state’s attorneys say they will be seeking at Urbanski’s sentencing hearing on April 16.

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