By Jillian Atelsek, Christine Condon and Leah Brennan
Senior staff writers
After less than two days of testimony, prosecutors rested their case on Monday against the former University of Maryland student charged with murder and a hate crime in the fatal stabbing of 2nd. Lt. Richard Collins.
Sean Urbanski’s attorneys then motioned to drop the hate crime and first-degree murder charges against him, arguing that the state had failed to provide enough evidence to justify either count. Judge Lawrence Hill rejected both requests.
“There is sufficient evidence,” Hill said, “that the jury could return a verdict of guilty on both counts.”
During Monday’s testimony, prosecutors Jonathon Church and Jason Abbott brought forth both witnesses to the attack, one of whom said they saw Urbanski — who is also charged with second-degree murder — brandishing a knife as he approached. Church and Abbott have argued that indicates the attack was premeditated.
Much of the day’s proceedings, though, focused on a series of racist memes that were on Urbanski’s phone. Church and Abbott showed the jury about a dozen such images, saved onto his camera roll between December 2016 and April 2017, that were mixed in with personal photos of friends and family.
The memes weren’t all clearly visible to the courtroom. Rather than showing the images themselves, the state projected photographs of Urbanski’s phone with the images open on its screen.
One image displayed two strands of DNA — one of which was labeled as belonging to a “normal” person, the other to a black person, said Cpl. Garfield Kelly, the University of Maryland Police Department detective in charge of the case. The black person’s DNA consisted of a metal chain. Another image depicted a white person using the n-word to describe a black person.
Urbanski had to purposefully save the images to his cell phone in order for them to appear in his camera roll, testified Michael Waski, a computer forensic examiner for the FBI. The jurors will be able to view all the photos during their deliberation, the defense attorneys said.
During cross examination, defense attorney William Brennan made a point to emphasize that it’s impossible to tell if Urbanski viewed any of the images after saving them to his phone. Plus, the source of each is unclear — meaning Urbanski could have sought them out online or saved them after receiving them from another person, Brennan said.
Nicholas Clampitt, a friend and former co-worker of Urbanski’s, testified that both men were members of a Facebook group called “Alt-Reich: Nation,” where there were memes similar to those shown in court.
When Church asked Clampitt whether the name of the group was a reference to Nazi Germany, Clampitt answered: “I believe it’s supposed to be.”
Prosecutors also called both former University of Maryland students who witnessed the attack on Collins, a black Bowie State University student, to the stand.
Blake Bender, who was with Collins when he was stabbed, said he heard “nonsensical screaming” from about 100 yards away shortly before Urbanski approached the group. The pair was standing with Amanda Lee, another former student, whom Bender and Collins had just met, near the Montgomery Hall bus stop.
Bender said that upon approaching the group, Urbanski said “Step left if you know what’s best for you” three times before stabbing Collins. The first two times, Urbanski was making eye contact with Bender, he said.
After Collins said “What?” and “No,” Bender said, Urbanski stabbed Collins in the chest. Collins’ words were neither threatening nor aggressive, Bender said.
Lee, the second witness to the attack, said that Urbanski was carrying the knife as he walked up to the group.
“When he came forward out of the shadows,” she said, “I saw the knife in his hand.”
Throughout the trial, the defense has emphasized that Urbanski’s actions were neither planned nor racially motivated. Rather, they’ve argued he was simply intoxicated and angry.
While first-degree murder requires premeditation, second-degree murder occurs in the spur of the moment, without planning or forethought.
Collins was standing closest to the sidewalk, the defense argued. He was the only member of the group to respond to Urbanski as he was yelling, they said.
At the end of the day, the defense called Akshay Lingayat, a graduate of this university and an “acquaintance” of Urbanski’s. Lingayat saw Urbanski leaving Terrapin’s Turf that evening, he said, “acting completely out of it” and punching a light post.
Lingayat walked Urbanski to the Montgomery Hall bus stop, he said, and then left him there. Urbanski himself left the area near the bus stop soon after, surveillance video showed, but quickly returned. Prosecutors have also pointed to this fact as an indication that the killing was premeditated.
Testimony will resume Tuesday morning at the Prince George’s County Circuit Court in Upper Marlboro.