Sean Urbanski, the man charged with fatally stabbing Army 2nd Lt. Richard Collins III on the University of Maryland’s College Park campus in 2017, has been convicted of first-degree murder.
The jury deliberated for about two hours Wednesday following a six-day trial in Prince George’s County Circuit Court.
Urbanski, 24, will be sentenced April 16 and faces a maximum sentence of life in prison with no chance of parole. Prince George’s County State’s Attorney Aisha Braveboy said in a statement after the verdict was announced that her office would seek the maximum penalty.
Prosecutors maintained the killing was racially motivated — even after a legal setback earlier this week when a judge tossed a separate hate-crime charge in the case.
Prosecutors argued to jurors on the final day of the trial that racist memes found on Urbanski’s phone showed he had “poisoned” his mind with white supremacist propaganda before he stabbed Collins, who was waiting with a friend at a campus bus stop in the early hours of May 20, 2017.
Collins, a Bowie State University student, was days away from graduating and had just been commissioned as an Army officer when he was killed.
“We know that Lt. Collins was targeted because he was black,” Prince George’s County State’s Attorney Aisha Braveboy said during a news conference after the jury delivered its verdict.
She told reporters bringing the case was about “righting an injustice.”
Collins’ parents, Richard Collins II and Dawn Collins, who stood alongside prosecutors at the news conference, also made brief statements.
“It’s been a long road, but we are very pleased with the results,” said Collins’ father, referring to the more than two years of legal proceedings since his son’s killing.
Dawn Collins said she plans to be involved in efforts to change Maryland’s hate-crime laws that would allow prosecutors to more easily prove racial bias as a motive.
The courtroom was jolted earlier in the week after Judge Lawrence Hill tossed out the other charge Urbanski was facing — a state count of hate crime resulting in death — ruling prosecutors had failed to show that Urbanski stabbed Collins to death specifically because Collins was black.
During the trial, Urbanski’s defense attorneys never disputed that the former University of Maryland student stabbed Collins, but they claimed it had nothing to do with race and asked the jury for a verdict of second-degree murder. They argued Urbanski was “stupid drunk” at the time of the stabbing and too intoxicated to form the premeditation necessary for first-degree murder.
Prosecutor: Urbanski ‘dehumanized’ black people
The jury’s verdict came after closing arguments from the prosecution and defense that painted starkly different pictures of the crime and its motivation.
In his closing argument, Prince George’s County prosecutor Jonathon Church urged jurors to hold Urbanski responsible for cutting short Collins’ life, arguing Urbanski was motivated by hate and the killing was premeditated.
The prosecutor pointed to witness Amanda Lee, a University of Maryland student who was standing and talking with Collins and another student at a campus bus stop before Collins was stabbed.
Lee testified that Urbanski approached and watched the group for about 10 minutes before he left and then came back, holding an open folding knife, and stabbed Collins.
The prosecutor told jurors the fact that Urbanski approached with the knife open showed premeditation.
The prosecutor also reminded jurors of the racist memes recovered from Urbanski’s phone after the stabbing.
“The phone is a true window to a person’s mind,” Church said, adding that the memes showed Urbanski “dehumanized” black people.
The prosecutor pointed to a meme Urbanski had downloaded on Christmas Day 2016 — less than six months before the killing — that referenced “pushing a n — into a woodchipper.”
Referring to Urbanski’s defense of drunkenness, Church said: “There’s no evidence he was so out of it he didn’t know what he was doing.”
Defense: Racist memes are ‘red herring’
When it came time for the defense’s closing, attorney John McKenna acknowledged the case would result in a conviction — but not the charge prosecutors were pushing for.
“He committed a crime,” McKenna said. “He knows it, his family knows it — it’s just not first-degree murder.”
McKenna argued there was evidence race played a role in the stabbing and offered a different explanation: “Sean was stupid drunk. The only poison in his brain was alcohol.”
McKenna referred to the racist images on Urbanski’s phone as “those stupid memes” and a “red herring,” and said jurors should instead focus on how intoxicated Urbanski was at the time of the killing. A defense expert had testified Urbanski’s blood alcohol content was likely more than three times over the legal limit when he stabbed Collins.
“He was a stupid, drunk college kid,” McKenna told jurors.
After the defense concluded, Church, the prosecutor, got the final say, in what’s known as the rebuttal closing.
After again referencing the racist memes on Urbanski’s phone, Church held up a can of Miller Light beer and told the jury: “Don’t let this be an excuse for who he is.”