No-show in U.Md. murder, hate crime hearing

Family and friends of U.S. Army Lt. Richard Collins III were waiting in the courtroom hallway. So were the parents and friends of Sean Urbanski, who is charged with stabbing Collins to death in May 2017.

But Urbanski wasn’t there.

Urbanski is set to go on trial July 22 on charges of first-degree murder and committing a hate crime resulting in death. He’s facing life with no chance of parole for the murder charge, 20 years for the hate crime.

But Urbanski was never transferred from the Howard County Detention Center, where he is being held in the maximum security prison, for Thursday’s motions hearing. 

Finally, after a bench conference involving Prince George’s County Circuit Court Judge Lawrence Hill Jr.; defense attorneys William Brennan and John McKenna, and prosecutors Jonathan Church and Jason Abbott, the hearing was continued until Wednesday, June 5.

Transfer of an inmate for a hearing or trial is the responsibility of prosecutors, in coordination with sheriff and corrections officials.

The postponement in the trial, which has been rescheduled three times, leaves at least three key issues in the case unresolved.

When the motions hearing is held, the defense will verbally argue three defense motions that have previously been filed.

First, Urbanski’s lawyers have argued jurors should not be able to see or hear about “particularly offensive” racist material found on his phone, as well as discussions on his now-deleted Alt-Reich: Nation Facebook page.

Urbanski’s attorneys said the material is “extremely prejudicial, highly inflammatory, irrelevant, and not otherwise admissible.” Prosecutors counter that the material helps shed light on motive in the killing.

Second, the defense is seeking separate trials for the murder charge and the hate crime charge. Urbanski’s lawyers say prosecutors’ evidence must be applicable to both crimes, and argue any racist material would not be admissible if this were strictly a murder case.

Finally, Urbanski’s lawyers are seeking dismissal of the state hate charge, claiming it violates their client’s First Amendment rights.

As WTOP reported in March, the Federal Bureau of Investigation did not find enough evidence to suggest federal hate crime charges. In some cases, federal hate crimes can be punishable by death.

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.

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