WASHINGTON — The outcome of an FBI hate crime investigation could carry life-or-death consequences for the 22-year-old white college student accused of fatally stabbing a visiting African-American student on the University of Maryland campus.
Sean Christopher Urbanski, of Severna Park, Maryland, made his first appearance before a judge Monday afternoon in Upper Marlboro for a bond hearing on state charges of first- and second-degree murder and first-degree assault in the death of 23-year-old Richard Collins III. The judge ordered Urbanski held without bond.
But the ramifications of a crime motivated by hate can mean the difference between life or death in Maryland, where the maximum penalty for a murder conviction is life with no chance of parole.
“We no longer have a death penalty,” said University of Maryland Police Chief David Mitchell. “On a federal level, it’s a different story.”
“Federal crimes can lead to a capital case,” he said. “Whether or not that would occur here will certainly take a lot of review and thought, and that’s why we have the FBI with us.”
The FBI’s Dave Fitz, of the Baltimore Field Office, said the bureau’s investigation into a possible hate crime is “in progress, as we take a look at the digital footprint.”
Mitchell said Sunday that Urbanski is a member of a Facebook group, “Alt-Reich: Nation,” which posts racist and inflammatory material.
By Monday morning, the private Facebook group was no longer online.
During a Sunday evening news conference, Mitchell said he had not personally viewed any of Urbanski’s posts in the Facebook group, but the FBI’s forensic capabilities will likely uncover previous comments.
Investigators are quick to point out Urbanski’s listing as a group member does not suggest he committed a crime because of hate, or that prosecutors would be able to prove that hate prompted the stabbing.
The case could ultimately be prosecuted federally if the FBI’s investigation concludes the crime was motivated by hate.
A spokesman for Maryland’s acting U.S. Attorney Steve Schenning declined to comment Monday.
“As of now, it is a state case,” said spokesman Schneyder Metellus. “Our office will not be taking any questions.”
Charging documents state that a female companion of Collins saw a knife in Urbanski’s hand — police described it as short, with a 3-to-4 inch silver blade — as he screamed and approached Collins.
After the stabbing, Urbanski was sitting on a bench at a bus stop approximately 50 feet from where Collins collapsed, according to the Statement of Probable Cause. Officers recovered the knife from the front right pocket of Urbanski’s khaki shorts.
Although Urbanski was interviewed by a University of Maryland police detective, he did not say why he allegedly stabbed Collins, Mitchell said.