Lawyers in Black Army Officer Murder Case Want to Exclude Racist Evidence

Attorneys representing a white supremacist who is accused of killing a Black Army lieutenant at the University of Maryland, College Park will fight to prevent the offensive and racist content found on his phone and social media accounts from being used as evidence in his murder trial.

Sean Urbanski, 24, is accused of stabbing 23-year-old Richard W. Collins III to death on May 20, 2017. The 23-year-old was waiting for a ride with two friends at the university when Urbanski approached him and ordered him to move, police said.

“Step left, step left if you know what’s best for you,” Urbanski reportedly told Collins before stabbing him to death with a folding knife. University of Maryland Police Chief David Mitchell called the murder “totally unprovoked,” the Washington Post reported. Urbanski was charged with a hate crime in October after a months-long investigation. Former Prince George’s County State’s Attorney Angela Alsobrooks said prosecutors searched Urbanski’s phone and computers. “We are comfortable at this time that the motive in this case was race,” Alsobrooks said, according to WTOP. “Lieutenant Collins was killed because of his race.”

Investigators did not reveal what they found in Urbanski’s devices. However, it was revealed that Urbanski was part of a racist Facebook group called “Alt-Reich: Nation,” and that he wrote anti-Hispanic comments on the meme sharing website 9gag. According to The Daily Beast, Urbanski was also found to have upvoted anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim photos on the site.

Urbanski’s attorneys filed a motion that revealed prosecutors would introduce “certain cartoon images and a group message survey extracted from his cellular phone.” The lawyers requested a judge ban “particularly offensive” evidence found on their client’s phone. “Those images, survey, and Facebook page are particularly offensive, extremely prejudicial, highly inflammatory, irrelevant and not otherwise admissible,” attorneys William C. Brennan Jr. and John M. McKenna wrote in a filing, according to the Washington Post.

The lawyers argued that the material is not relevant or connected to the death of Collins. When Urbanski was arrested, Brennan told a judge that “alcohol and substance abuse may have played a significant role in all of this,” WTOP reported. They also claimed that the material was more shocking than Collins’ murder. “There is genuine risk that the emotions of the jury concerning the cartoon images on the cellphone, the text message survey, and the Facebook postings will be excited to irrational behavior concerning the alleged murder of Mr. Collins,” the lawyers wrote in the filing. “The proffered evidence is more shocking than the underlying crime.”

Prosecutors, however, are expected to use the evidence to prove that Collins’ death was racially motivated. If prosecutors are permitted to use the evidence, Urbanski’s lawyers have requested that the murder and hate crime charges be prosecuted separately. The Prince George’s County State’s Attorney’s Office declined to comment to The North Star on the request to ban the evidence in the trial. A spokesperson said that the “appropriate comments” would be made at the June 5 hearing.

Prosecutors claim that the evidence Urbanski’s lawyers are trying to ban from the trial supports Urbanski’s motive for stabbing Collins. “The recovered data” shows “the defendant purposefully chose to stab Mr. Collins, over anyone else at the bus stop that night, because Mr. Collins is an African American,” prosecutors wrote in court filings, according to the Washington Post. Prosecutors plan to seek a life sentence without a chance for parole for the murder charge, WTOP reported.

Collins was fatally stabbed just days before he was set to graduate from Bowie State University. He had already been commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Army. In November 2018, Bowie State launched a new scholarship to honor Collins’ legacy called the Second Lieutenant Richard W. Collins III Leadership with Honor Scholarship. Scholarship recipients must be a member of a Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC), be eligible for in-state tuition, be a minority or member of an underrepresented group in the ROTC, and must attend a historically Black college or university (HBCU), according to The Capital Gazette.

A hearing for Urbanski was rescheduled for June 5 when he was unable to appear in court on May 30 due to transportation issues.

About the Author

Nicole Rojas is a breaking news writer for The North Star. She has published in various venues, including Newsweek, GlobalPost, IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly, and the Long Island Post. Nicole graduated from Boston University in 2012 with a degree in print journalism. She is an avid world traveler who recently explored Asia and Australia.