Lawmakers tweak Maryland hate crime statute, drop requirement of hate as sole motive

Three months after a judge threw out a hate crime charge against the white man convicted of fatally stabbing a black Army officer on the University of Maryland campus, Maryland lawmakers have passed new hate crime legislation.

Maryland’s Senate and House passed bills Tuesday stating that hate does not have to be the sole motivation for a hate crime.

In December, Sean Urbanski was convicted of first degree murder in the death of Army 2nd Lt. Richard Collins III on the College Park campus in 2017.

One day earlier, Prince George’s County Circuit Court Judge Lawrence Hill dismissed the hate count, saying prosecutors had failed to show 24-year-old Urbanski, who is white, stabbed U.S. Army 2nd Lt. Richard Collins III specifically because Collins was black.

Under the new legislation — Senate Bill 606 and House Bill 917 — prosecutors would need to show a hate crime was “motivated either in whole or in substantial part by another person’s or group’s race, color, religious beliefs, sexual orientation, gender, disability, or national origin, or because another person or group is homeless.”

Prince George’s County State’s Attorney Aisha Braveboy and the Collins family had pushed to strengthen the hate crime law after the hate count against Urbanski was dropped.

“In 2019, there were zero convictions in all of Maryland’s Circuit Courts under the current hate crime statute,” Braveboy said in a statement. “The 2nd Lt. Richard Collins III Law will ensure that individuals who commit a hate crime are prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”

In Maryland, the hate crime statute is not a separate law, as it is in federal court. The state hate crime law statute can only be applied in conjunction with a victim’s death. Currently, the maximum penalty for state hate crime is 20 years in prison, which could be tacked on to a life sentence for murder.

Urbanski is scheduled to be sentenced in April for murdering Collins. Prosecutors are seeking life in prison.

After the governor’s signature, the law is expected to take effect on Oct. 1, 2020.

Neal Augenstein

Neal Augenstein has been a reporter at WTOP since 1997. Through the years, Neal has covered many of the crimes and trials that have gripped the region. Neal's been pleased to receive awards over the years for hard news, feature reporting, use of sound and sports.

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