UPPER MARLBORO — A white man who stabbed a black college student to death at a bus stop on the University of Maryland’s campus admits he carried out the killing and concedes he is guilty of a crime.
But a jury must decide whether Sean Urbanski’s fatal stabbing of 23-year-old Richard Collins III in May 2017 was a premeditated, intentional act of violent hate or an alcohol-fueled killing committed by an “out-of-his-mind drunk.”
Jurors began deliberating Wednesday after hearing closing arguments in a case that prosecutors framed as a hate crime committed by a 22-year-old man whose mind had been poisoned by racist propaganda.
A Prince George’s County judge threw out a hate crime charge against Urbanski on Tuesday, leaving jurors to decide between two murder charges.
Prosecutors urged the 12 jurors to convict Urbanski of first-degree murder, a charge punishable by life in prison without the possibility of parole. Defense attorneys argued the evidence only supports a second-degree murder conviction, which would result in a maximum sentence of 30 years in prison.
Defense attorney John McKenna said there was no evidence or testimony to support a racial motive for the killing.
“Sean was stupid drunk, and the only poison in his veins was the alcohol,” McKenna said.
A prosecutor, Jonathan Church, said Urbanski already brandished a 3-inch folding knife when he emerged from the shadows of a wooded area and approached Collins at the bus stop.
“He had it ready because he knew in his mind what he was going to do,” Church said of the knife.
Circuit Court Judge Lawrence Hill Jr. ruled Tuesday that prosecutors didn’t meet their legal burden of showing racial hatred motivated Urbanski to stab Collins.
But the judge allowed prosecutors to present evidence that Urbanski had saved at least six photographs of racist memes on his cellphone and liked a Facebook group called “Alt-Reich: Nation.” Church described some of the memes during closing arguments.
“He poisoned his mind with white supremacist propaganda, Nazi-style propaganda,” the prosecutor said.
Urbanski, now 24, had been enrolled at the University of Maryland’s College Park campus and had been drinking with friends at bars for hours before the killing.
Collins was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army shortly before his death and was preparing to be deployed to the demilitarized zone between North Korea and South Korea. He was days from graduating from Bowie State University, a historically black college, and was celebrating with a friend at bars on the night of his killing.
McKenna said an expert witness for the defense concluded that Urbanski’s blood alcohol level was more than twice and up to three times the legal limit at the time of the killing. The defense lawyer argued his client was too drunk to have the intent or premeditation necessary to support a first-degree murder conviction.
“He committed a crime. Absolutely,” McKenna said. “Just not first-degree murder.”
It was just after 3 a.m. on a Saturday when Urbanski approached Collins while he waited for an Uber driver with a friend, a white man, and an Asian woman whom they met at the bus stop. Urbanski had watched them for more than 10 minutes before he briefly left and then returned, brandishing a folding knife as he approached the friends from a wooded area, according to prosecutors.
“Step left, step left if you know what’s best for you,” Urbanski told them, according to police.
“No,” Collins said before Urbanski stabbed him once in his chest.
Police arrested Sean Urbanski at the bus stop, 50 feet (15 meters) from where Collins was dying. After fatally stabbing Collins, Urbanski folded the knife, clipped it onto his pocket and sat down on a bench until police arrived, prosecutors said.