UPPER MARLBORO, Md.—A man was found guilty of murder on Wednesday for stabbing a college student to death at a bus stop on the University of Maryland’s campus, a crime that prosecutors had claimed was racially motivated.
Sean Urbanski, 24, faces a maximum sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole. He is scheduled to be sentenced April 16.
A Prince George’s County jury deliberated for about two hours before convicting him of first-degree murder in the May 2017 killing of Richard Collins III, 23.
Supporters of Collins’s parents hugged them after the verdict, while Urbanski’s mother leaned over and wept.
Collins’s parents said in a statement after the verdict that “justice is finally being served.”
“Two-and-a-half years after Richard’s murder, this verdict has reaffirmed one of our nation’s most fundamental values — that every American, regardless of race, religion, or sexual orientation, is entitled to live freely and safely,” they said.
On Tuesday, Circuit Court Judge Lawrence Hill Jr. agreed to throw out a hate crime charge against Urbanski before jurors began deliberating. The judge ruled that prosecutors didn’t meet their legal burden of showing racial hatred motivated Urbanski to stab Collins.
Hill’s ruling left jurors to decide between two murder charges, a decision that hinged on whether they found Collins was killed in a premeditated, intentional act of violent hate or an alcohol-fueled attack by an “out-of-his-mind drunk.”
Defense attorneys didn’t dispute Urbanski killed Collins and conceded he committed a crime. They urged jurors to convict Urbanski of second-degree murder instead of first-degree murder. Second-degree murder carries a maximum sentence of 30 years in prison.
Prosecutors said a toxic mixture of alcohol and racist propaganda poisoned Urbanski’s mind and emboldened him to act on his hatred of black people. 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 Wednesday during the trial’s closing arguments.
A prosecutor, Jonathon 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.
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.
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.
Urbanski had been enrolled at the University of Maryland’s College Park campus and also had been drinking with friends at bars for hours before the 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 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.
By Michael Kunzelman