A former University of Maryland student charged with fatally stabbing a Bowie State student in the spring was indicted on a hate-crime charge Tuesday by a Prince George’s County grand jury.
“We are completely comfortable with the indictment in this case,” Prince George’s County State’s Attorney Angela D. Alsobrooks said in a news conference announcing the charge.
Army 2nd Lt. Richard W. Collins III, 23, who was black, had been visiting friends at College Park in May when a white UM student, Sean Urbanski, 22, approached them outside. Charging documents said Urbanski, who seemed incoherent and intoxicated, 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.
Police initially said race did not appear to play a role in the killing. The FBI became involved after the discovery that Urbanski, a 2013 graduate of Severna Park High School, belonged to a Facebook group called Alt Reich: Nation, where members share white supremacist memes. In July, Alsobrooks told reporters that her office lacked sufficient evidence to pursue hate-crime charges.
But in the news conference Tuesday, 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, Alsobrooks said. Prosecutors have said there is also video footage of the encounter.
The killing prompted protests from students and reignited a debate about racial problems at College Park after incidents on campus earlier in the year, including the discovery of a noose in a fraternity house and posters promoting white supremacy.
The university's Black Student Union said Maryland administrators "enabled Urbanski through their consistent dismissal of blatant hate speech and race-biased crimes."
In May, University of Maryland, College Park President Wallace D. Loh announced a series of actions to fight hate on campus, including the creation of a task force on bias and campus safety.
Urbanski is scheduled to go on trial in January. If convicted, he could be sentenced to life without parole plus 20 years, Alsobrooks said. His lawyers could not be reached for comment.
Collins, an ROTC student, had been about to graduate from Bowie State University when he was killed. In May, his family accepted a posthumous degree on his behalf.
Alsobrooks said Collins’ family had been informed of the new indictment, but added, “I don’t know if there is anything that can ever be done to really completely heal a wound like this.”
Following Tuesday’s indictment, the University of Maryland posted a statement on Twitter saying: “The Collins family remains in our thoughts, following the tragic loss last May. This is especially true today as the prosecution of this senseless crime moves through the criminal justice system.”
Bowie State University posted a statement saying the campus continued to mourn Collins’ death. “While it is encouraging to see progress being made in the criminal case, we continue to reflect on the precious life lost,” the statement said.
The Anti-Defamation League applauded the indictment. “It is always important to be able to call a hate crime what it is,” Doron Ezickson, ADL regional director in Washington, said in a statement.
Racial incidents have persisted at UM. Last week, university police reported that someone used black marker to draw swastikas and scrawl hate language inside a men’s restroom stall in Ellicott Hall at the College Park campus. At the University of Maryland, Baltimore County’s Catonsville campus, authorities are also investigating swastikas being drawn on or carved into surfaces in restrooms, classrooms and residential buildings.