COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- A judge on Tuesday dismissed a hate crime charge against a white man who stabbed a black college student to death at a bus stop on the University of Maryland’s campus.
But a jury trial will continue Wednesday for Sean Urbanski, 24, on a murder charge in the May 2017 killing of Richard Collins III.
Prince George’s County Circuit Court Judge Lawrence Hill Jr. granted a defense motion to acquit Urbanski of the hate crime charge, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison, according to defense attorney William Brennan and state's attorney's office spokeswoman Denise Roberts. News outlets report that the judge ruled prosecutors didn’t meet their legal burden of showing that racial hatred motivated Urbanski to stab Collins.
Brennan said the judge will instruct jurors on both first- and second-degree murder charges before they begin deliberating. Prosecutors are seeking a sentence of life without the possibility of parole if Urbanski is convicted of first-degree murder. The maximum prison sentence for a second-degree murder conviction would be 30 years.
Prosecutors rested their case on Monday. Defense lawyers finished presenting evidence on Tuesday. Jurors are expected to hear closing arguments on Wednesday before deliberations begin.
During the trial’s opening statements last week, deputy state’s attorney Jason Abbott said a toxic mixture of alcohol and racist propaganda emboldened Urbanski to act on his hatred of black people. Urbanski had saved at least six photographs of racist memes on his cellphone and liked a Facebook group called "Alt-Reich: Nation," according to prosecutors.
Brennan denied the killing was racially motivated. The defense attorney said there was no evidence that Urbanski hated or advocated violence against any ethnic group or race.
Urbanski doesn’t dispute that he stabbed Collins. His lawyers say he was extremely drunk after a night of drinking with friends near the University of Maryland’s College Park campus, where he was enrolled as a student.
Collins had been commissioned as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army shortly before his death and was days from graduating from Bowie State University, a historically black college. Collins was celebrating with a friend at bars near the College Park campus on the night of his killing.
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 Abbott.
"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.
Brennan said an expert witness for the defense concluded that Urbanski’s blood alcohol level was three times the legal limit at the time of the killing, making him too drunk to have the intent or premeditation necessary to support a first-degree murder conviction.