Sentencing day: Urbanski could get life without parole for U.Md. stabbing murder

Almost four years after a white man plunged a knife into a Black man’s chest on the College Park campus of University of Maryland, Sean Urbanski could be sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole for the first-degree murder of U.S. Army 2nd Lt. Richard Collins III.

Urbanski, now 25, was convicted Dec. 18, 2019 in the death of Collins, who was killed three days before he was set to graduate from Bowie State University.

Prince George’s County prosecutors have said they’ll ask Circuit Court Judge Lawrence Hill to sentence Urbanski to life without the chance for parole, in part because Urbanski targeted Collins because he was Black.

However, in trial, Hill had dismissed a state count of hate crime resulting in death against Urbanski, ruling prosecutors had failed to show Urbanski stabbed Collins to death specifically because of Collins’ race.

With post-conviction advocacy from Collins’ parents, Dawn and Richard Collins II and Prince George’s County State’s Attorney Aisha Braveboy, a new, wider Maryland hate crime law, named for Collins, went into effect Oct. 1, 2020.

On the morning of sentencing, it’s unclear what sentence Urbanski’s attorneys, William Brennan and John McKenna, will seek or whom they will call to testify on their client’s behalf.

In trial, the defense had told jurors racist memes found on Urbanski’s phone were “a red herring,” and that race played no role in his decision to stab Collins, who was the only Black person standing at a bus stop in the early hours of May 20, 2017.

Prosecutors told jurors Urbanski walked up to Collins and said, “Step left. Step left if you know what’s best for you.” Collins said “no,” and was stabbed by Urbanski.

In trial, defense attorney McKenna told jurors race had nothing to do with the stabbing: “Sean was stupid drunk. The only poison in his brain was alcohol. He was a stupid, drunk college kid.”

Based on arguments during trial and potential avenues for appeal, Urbanski’s attorneys — and perhaps experts — could argue for a sentence of less than life in prison because he was too drunk to know what he was doing.

A defense expert had testified at trial Urbanski’s blood alcohol content was likely more than three times over the legal limit when he stabbed Collins.

In addition, McKenna and Brennan could tell Hill — or an appeals court panel — that the jury was likely predisposed to convict Urbanski of murder, after hearing of racist memes to support the later-thrown-out hate crime charge.

During the afternoon sentencing hearing, which will be conducted through video conferencing, Collins’ family and friends will provide victim impact statements, describing how his death affected them.

Urbanski did not take the stand in his own defense at trial. His attorneys have never described whether Urbanski feels remorse for the killing.

Before he is sentenced, Urbanski will be afforded the chance to address the judge — and, in effect, Collins’ loved ones.

WTOP’s Neal Augenstein will monitor the 1:30 p.m. sentencing hearing, which is expected to take several hours. Follow WTOP for updates.

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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