Jury selection will begin today in the trial of Sean Urbanski, the Maryland man accused of fatally stabbing Bowie State University student Richard Collins III at a bus stop on the University of Maryland campus two years ago. The 23-year-old Collins was a freshly-commissioned U.S. Army lieutenant just days away from graduating.
Urbanski will be tried for first-degree murder and a state hate crime charge, which could bring him life in prison without the possibility of parole if convicted. As WJZ-TV reports, the trial for the high-profile crime has already been delayed four times.
What won’t be contested at the trial is the fact that Urbanski killed Collins on May 20, 2017. What prosecutors will try to prove in the next two weeks is that Urbanski killed Collins because he was black.
From the Washington Post:
The surveillance video of the stabbing is clear, according to prosecutors: Sean Urbanski stands in the shadows before approaching a group of three college students at a University of Maryland bus stop. He walks past another man, who, like Urbanski, is white. He bypasses an Asian woman. And then he confronts the only black person in the group.
To persuade a jury, prosecutors will point to the fact that he singled out the sole black person at the bus stop that night, as well as to the contents of his phone, which they say contains evidence of his racist beliefs—racist memes, as well as posts on the now-deleted Facebook group “Alt-Reicht: Nation.”
Between Christmas Day 2016 and April 18, 2017, Urbanski interacted with content that included the image of a noose and a gun or with material that referred to black DNA or racist jokes, according to a judge’s description of the images detailed at a pretrial hearing for Urbanski.
Prosecutors are also expected to present 911 calls from eyewitnesses, who are also scheduled to testify, and recordings of more than a dozen phone calls Urbanski made from jail, WTOP reports.
Urbanski’s defense team, meanwhile, says their client was “out-of-his-mind drunk” when he stabbed Collins, the Post reports: “Eight hours after he was arrested in Collins’s slaying, his attorneys said, Urbanski showed a blood alcohol concentration of .10, higher than the legal limit in Maryland of .08.”
They also say Urbanski was never a member of the alt-right. Not only was “Alt-Reicht” not officially affiliated with any far-right groups, they add that the Facebook group was intended to be satirical.
Urbanski’s fate will likely rely on what a jury thinks of the material on his phone, and whether they will be willing to dismiss months worth of content and exchanges that suggest Urbanski is racist. According to WTOP, the FBI declined to press charges against Urbanski for a federal hate crime, deeming there wasn’t enough evidence to warrant the charges (the maximum sentence for a federal hate crime is the death penalty). Urbanski’s defense did try to offer a plea deal for second-degree murder, but prosecutors held firm on the first-degree charge.
Jurors will be allowed to consider finding Urbanski guilty of second-degree murder or manslaughter. Opening arguments are slated to begin Wednesday.