U. Md. murder, hate crime defendant wants ‘particularly offensive’ evidence excluded

BOWIE, Md. — Lawyers for the man charged with murder and a hate crime in the stabbing of a black student visiting University of Maryland want a judge to bar evidence linking him to the Alt-Reich: Nation Facebook page.

Sean Urbanski, 23, is charged with the May 20, 2017, murder of Richard Collins III, Bowie State University student who had recently been commissioned as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army and was set to graduate days later.

Urbanski’s lawyers William Brennan and John McKenna have told the judge in a motion that they expect Prince George’s County prosecutors to introduce “certain cartoon images and a group message survey extracted from his cellular phone,” as well as discussions on his now deleted Alt-Reich: Nation Facebook page.

“Those images, survey and Facebook page are particularly offensive, extremely prejudicial, highly inflammatory, irrelevant and not otherwise admissible,” wrote Brennan and McKenna.

According to charging documents, Collins was visiting friends on the University of Maryland College Park campus. At about 3 a.m. he and two friends were waiting for an Uber at a bus stop when Urbanski stabbed Collins, in what police described as an unprovoked attack.

Shortly after his arrest, University of Maryland police said Urbanski was a member of the racist Facebook group.

When Prince George’s County State’s Attorney Angela Alsobrooks added a state hate crime charge, she said prosecutors were convinced Collins was murdered because he was black, but didn’t elaborate.

Urbanski’s attorneys disagree. “There is absolutely no temporal nexus between the proffered evidence and the killing of Mr. Richard Collins,” the defense lawyers wrote in the motion.

Brennan and McKenna argue the value in court of the cartoon, survey and Facebook discussion “is substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice, confusion of the issues, and misleading the jury. …

“There is genuine risk that the emotions of the jury concerning the cartoon images on the cellphone, the text message survey and the Facebook posting will be excited to irrational behavior concerning the alleged murder of Mr. Collins. The proffered evidence is more shocking than the underlying crime.”

Alsobrooks spokesman John Erzen declined to comment on the motion, saying, “We will prosecute this case in court; we will make our arguments at the motions hearing.” It is unclear whether the motion will be discussed in a previously scheduled motions hearing, set for Thursday.

Brennan did not respond to requests for comment about the motion. Shortly after Urbanski’s arrest, Brennan told a judge “alcohol and substance abuse may have played a significant role in all of this.”

Prince George’s County prosecutors have said they intend to seek a life sentence with no chance of parole for Urbanski’s murder charge. The state charge of hate crime resulting in death carries a sentence of 20 years.

However, federal hate crimes involving murder could make a defendant eligible for the death penalty. The FBI’s Baltimore office has been investigating the incident, but has not said whether there is sufficient evidence to file a federal hate charge.

Brennan and McKenna asked the court to try the murder and state hate charges separately if the prosecution is allowed to introduce the cartoon, text survey and Facebook discussion.

Neal Augenstein

Neal Augenstein has been a general assignment reporter with WTOP since 1997. He says he looks forward to coming to work every day, even though that means waking up at 3:30 a.m.

Federal News Network Logo
Log in to your WTOP account for notifications and alerts customized for you.

Sign up