Update (December 18, 2019): A judge has dropped a hate crime charge against a white college student who fatally stabbed a Black 23-year-old in May 2017, according to WJZ.
Initially, Sean Urbanski was only indicted on a murder charge for allegedly stabbing Lt. Richard Collins III, as Blavity previously reported. Collins was waiting at a bus stop on the campus of the University of Maryland College Park where Urbanksi was enrolled as a student.
After authorities reviewed Urbanski's phone, which revealed white supremacy content, he was later charged with a hate crime, The Washington Post reported.
Prince George's County State Attorney Angela Alsobrooks said "lots of digital evidence" was uncovered on his phone, leading authorities to believe the incident was racially motivated. She said Collin's death was "unjustified and premeditated" and the evidence led them to believe he "was murdered because of his race."
Urbanski was a member of the Facebook group Alt-Reich: Nation which contained racist and derogatory content. He had reportedly interacted with content that included images of a noose and gun and racist jokes.
The prosecutor called the page a “white supremacist group no different than the KKK.” The defense said their self-description was "controversial humor."
On Tuesday, Judge Lawerence Hill said although the content on Urbanksi's phone was troubling, the state failed to meet the burden of proof that the stabbing was solely racially motivated.
Defense attorney John McKenna said, “We believe there’s no evidence of a race-based killing. … He did not single out Richard Collins as the state indicated.”
After the decision to drop the charge was announced, Collins' mother "collapsed" in the courtroom, according to family supporter Dr. L. E. Gomez.
“What message does this send?” Dr. Gomez asked outside the courthouse.
Collins, who was set to graduate from Bowie State University just days after the attack, was with two friends when Urbanski called out "Step left, step left if you know what's best for you." Collins reportedly refused and that's when he was stabbed.
After his arrest, examiners said in court they estimated Urbanski's blood-alcohol level was two to three times the legal limit. Eight hours after his arrest, tests revealed he had .10% alcohol in his bloodstream.
Urbanski would have faced a maximum sentence of 20 years if convicted of the hate crime charge.
Original (December 10, 2019): The trial of Sean Urbanski has finally begun after years of court challenges from his lawyers, who claim his 2017 killing of Black Army lieutenant Richard Collins III was not racially motivated.
On Monday, jury selection began for the trial, which has been gestating for more than a year and a half thanks to four separate court challenges from Urbanski's lawyers. The country was outraged in May 2017 when news of Collins' killing emerged on the University of Maryland College Park campus.
Urbanski was indicted on one charge of first-degree murder and another charge of hate crime resulting in death. The two-week trial will take place in Prince George’s County Circuit Court.
Collins was just three days away from graduating from Bowie State University and had recently been commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Army. He was standing at a bus stop waiting for a ride with two other people, a white man and an Asian woman, on the College Park campus when Urbanski approached the group with a folding knife.
According to video from the scene, Urbanski walked past the white man and Asian woman and told them, “Step left, step left if you know what’s best for you.”
Urbanski then stabbed the 23-year-old in the chest, killing him.
For years before the brutal slaying, Urbanski shared racist memes that denigrated Black people. He was also a member of Alt-Reich: Nation, a Facebook group that gained national prominence when its creators tried to argue that they were only sharing jokes and were not racist.
Police and prosecutors found photos of nooses and multiple images that contained hateful content and derogatory stereotypes about Black people.
The 24-year-old's lawyers have had the trial delayed four times in their efforts to assert that the photos and his membership in the Facebook group should not be submitted during the trial. They instead claim that Urbanski killed Collins because he was very drunk.
“Possessing racially insensitive material is not against the law,” defense attorney William Brennan told The Washington Post.
In a later filing, Brennan claimed his client "has never been a member of the Alt-Reich,” and that his status as a member of a Facebook group called “Alt-Reich: Nation” does not mean he has ever "been part of the 'Alt-Reich' political group/movement.”
A Prince George’s County judge ruled in June that the racist content found on Urbanski's phone would be allowed to be presented as evidence in the trial.
Urbanski was a student at the University of Maryland before the killing and has pleaded not guilty.
In an interview with The Washington Post, Prince George's County State's Attorney Angela Alsobrooks said, "Lieutenant Collins was murdered because of his race."
"I don't know that there is anything that can ever be done to really completely heal a wound like this. They lost their son three days shy of his graduation. I don't know if there is any way to make whole the family in this case," she added.