Lawyers for a former University of Maryland student charged with the 2017 killing of a black Bowie State University student have asked a judge to separate his first-degree murder and hate crime charges.
Sean Urbanski, who is white, is accused of stabbing Army 2nd Lt. Richard Collins III on the University of Maryland’s College Park campus in May 2017.
In a recent filing in Prince George’s County Circuit Court, Urbanski’s lawyers questioned the admissibility of evidence tying him to a Facebook page called “Alt-Reich: Nation,” as well as “certain cartoon images” and “group message surveys” taken from his cell phone. The attorneys, William C. Brennan, Jr., and John M. McKenna, argue that such material is not “relevant evidence” and even if it were, it would not be admissible as part of the first-degree murder charge.
Brennan and McKenna cited a Maryland court rule that allows for separate trials if evidence in one charge may prejudice a party in relation to another charge.
‘It’s safe to say we disagree,” said John E. Erzen, spokesperson for the Prince George’s County State’s Attorney. “We feel the two are related and that the aspects of the hate crime are the motive for the murder. We believe that it is up to the jury to decide.”
Collins had been visiting friends at College Park in May 2017 when Urbanski approached them near a campus bus stop, according to charging documents. The documents allege that a seemingly intoxicated Urbanski told the group to "Step left, step left if you know what's best for you.” Collins refused, and Urbanski stabbed him in the chest, according to the documents.
The next day, law enforcement found Urbanski followed a Facebook group called the “Alt-Reich Nation,” where members shared white supremacist memes.
Five months after being charged with first-degree murder, prosecutors added a hate crime charge against Urbanski. Prince George’s County State’s Attorney Angela D. Alsobrooks cited “lots and lots of digital evidence” taken from Urbanski’s phone and computer. “All those things put together” led investigators to look into the incident as a hate crime, said Alsobrooks at a press conference last October.
Collins, an ROTC student, was less than a week away from graduating from Bowie State University when he was killed.
Urbanski’s trial was set to begin early July, but a Prince George’s County judge granted a delay until January at the request of defense attorneys.
Urbanski could receive a life sentence without the possibility of parole if convicted of the first-degree murder charge, and an additional 20 years if convicted of a hate crime resulting in death.