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Racist Memes Weren't Enough to Convict a White College Student of a Hate Crime for Killing a Black Student

Sean Urbanski is still facing life in prison without parole.

by Tess Owen
Dec 17 2019, 7:34pm

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Sean Urbanski, a white former student at the University of Maryland, has been acquitted of hate crime charges for allegedly stabbing and killing a black Army ROTC student about two years ago.

Army Lt. Richard Collins III, 23, was waiting for an Uber on campus with two friends, a white male and an Asian woman, after a night of drinking in 2017. Prosecutors said that Urbanski, who’s now 24, watched Collins and his friends from a nearby bus stop. He then left, came back, and approached Collins. After bypassing his friends, Urbanski allegedly said, “Step left, step left if you know what’s best for you.” When Collins replied “No,” Urbanski allegedly took out a pocket knife and slit Collins’ pulmonary artery.

Urbanski is still facing life in prison without parole when a jury considers the murder charges against him. The hate crime charges would have added an additional 20 years to his sentence.

Prosecutors had tried to argue that racist memes found on Urbanski’s phone — and the fact that he belonged to an alt-right Facebook group — proved that racism had motivated him to kill Collins. One meme showed a black man being shoved into a woodchipper; it was titled “N---- in a woodchipper.” Others were directed at young black men who were killed by police, including Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown.

But a judge in Prince George's County ruled that wasn’t enough to prove Urbanski’s intent. Citing lack of evidence, the FBI also declined to pursue a federal hate crimes case against Urbanski.

Urbanski’s defense lawyers relied on testimony from witnesses who had observed the defendant earlier in the evening and testified that he was extremely inebriated and acting violently before he encountered Collins.

“I saw him punching a light post. I believe he was blackout drunk,” Urbanski’s acquaintance Akshay Lingayat said on the witness stand, according to a local CBS affiliate. “He was mentally checked out, stressed out, annoyed, upset.”

Collins’ murder came alongside a surge in hate crimes on college campuses across the country and just two months before white supremacists violently rallied on the University of Virginia's campus in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Cover image: This combination of photos provided by the U.S. Army and the University of Maryland Police Department shows Richard Collins III, right, and Sean Urbanski. (U.S. Army, University of Maryland Police Department via AP, File)

University of Maryland
Sean Urbanski
Richard Collins III