Defense seeks to bar expert testimony in U.Md. murder, hate trial

Lawyers for Sean Urbanski, who is charged with first-degree murder and a hate crime in the 2017 death of U.S. Army Lt. Richard Collins III, have asked the judge to disallow testimony from an authority on white supremacy in next month’s trial.

And, for the first time, Urbanski’s attorneys lawyers have said he has never been a member of the Alt-Reich white nationalism group, despite the prosecution’s allegation he was a member of the “Alt-Reich: Nation” Facebook group.

Collins, a Bowie State University student, had been visiting friends at the University of Maryland’s College Park campus when he was fatally stabbed May 20, 2017. His death came just days before his graduation, and two days after he was commissioned as a U.S. Army second lieutenant.

In a motion filed Nov. 13, defense attorneys William Brennan and John McKenna argue Prince George’s County prosecutors waited until 30 days before Urbanski’s Dec. 9 trial to disclose they intend to call Jessie Daniels as an expert witness “to testify about the Alt-Reich, its history, origins, ideology and members.”

Daniels, a professor at The City University of New York, “has spent the last 25 years calling attention to white supremacy,” according to her biography. She is currently working on a book, “Tweetstorm: The Rise of the ‘Alt-Right’ and the Mainstreaming of White Nationalism.”

In its first reason for opposing Daniels’ testimony, the defense said the motion to include expert testimony was inexcusably late, in a trial that has already been postponed four times.

”The State has no justifiable reason for withholding this notice of intention to present expert testimony for more than two years,” the defense wrote, adding it would be unable to properly prepare a defense or seek its own expert witness to rebut Daniels.

In addition to being untimely, the defense said, prosecutors Jason Abbott and Jonathon Church failed to provide any of Daniels’ findings, opinions and conclusions, leaving the defense unable to prepare for her testimony.

Brennan and McKenna argue it is up to Circuit Court Judge Lawrence Hill Jr. whether to allow Daniels to testify as an expert, since, according to prior rulings, expert testimony “is admissible only if it is relevant in the particular case.”

In June, Hill ruled jurors will be able to see and hear racist memes found on Urbanski’s phone minutes after he allegedly stabbed Collins.

“The defendant has never been a member of the Alt-Reich. Nevertheless, the State plans to introduce evidence the defendant was a member of a Facebook chat group called the ‘Alt-Reich: Nation’ which is not and has never been part of the ‘Alt-Reich’ political group/movement,” the defense attorneys wrote.

Brennan and McKenna said allowing Daniels to testify “would do nothing but confuse the jury and incorrectly suggest” the Facebook group was part of the white nationalist group.

”The State’s proposed expert testimony does little more than dress up a lay, albeit highly qualified, witness as a so-called ‘expert’ in order to call the Defendant a racist,” according to his lawyers.

It’s unclear when or whether Hill will entertain argument on the defense motion to exclude Daniels’ testimony.

If convicted, Urbanski could face up to life in prison with no chance of parole for first-degree murder and 20 years for the state hate crime resulting in death charge.

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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