Sean Urbanski found guilty of first-degree murder in 2017 killing at UMD
The parents of 2nd Lt. Richard Collins sit in court on Dec. 18 as prosecution and defense attorneys Jonathon Church, Jason Abbott, William Brennan, and John McKenna speak to Judge Lawrence Hill. The defendant Sean Urbanski watches from his seat. (Julia Nikhinson/The Diamondback)
By Jillian Atelsek, Leah Brennan and Christine Condon
Senior staff writers
After less than two hours of deliberation, a jury found former University of Maryland student Sean Urbanski guilty of first-degree murder Wednesday in the 2017 stabbing of 2nd Lt. Richard Collins.
Closing arguments in the case centered around Urbanski’s drunkenness on the night of the killing, and whether he was capable of premeditating it, which is required for a first-degree murder conviction, but not for second-degree murder.
Urbanski’s sentencing is set for April 16. Prosecutors have said they are seeking a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole.
On Tuesday, Urbanski’s lawyers succeeded in convincing Judge Lawrence Hill to toss out the hate crime charge, leaving only the murder charges remaining.
During his closing statements Wednesday, prosecutor Jonathon Church played the surveillance footage of the killing, letting it wash over jurors once more with the courtroom lights dimmed.
He pointed out how Urbanski walked away from the bus stop, only to return roughly a minute later, which would have given him time to think through his actions.
Church repeatedly reminded jurors of Amanda Lee, a witness to the stabbing who testified that she saw him already brandishing the open knife when he began approaching.
“He had it ready,” Church said, “because he knew in his head what he was going to do.”
Urbanski wasn’t too drunk to close the knife and carefully clip it to his pocket after the killing, Church argued. He wasn’t too drunk to step backwards and up onto a curb. He had no trouble removing his watch, belt and shoes as he was placed in a holding cell, and he remembered the words and tune to a song he sang to himself while he was there.
And the killing was quick, Church told the jury — Urbanski took all three people by surprise.
“Does that sound like the actions of someone who is so intoxicated they don’t know what they’re doing?” Church asked.
But John McKenna, one of Urbanski’s defense attorneys, said his client was simply a “stupid drunk college kid.”
“He committed a crime that he can’t remember, and that he deeply regrets,” McKenna said.
During a passionate appeal to the jury to find Urbanski guilty of second-degree murder, which carries a maximum sentence of 30 years in prison, McKenna emphasized that a single stab wound killed Collins.
The fact that Collins died of his injuries was almost “fluke-ish,” McKenna said. Urbanski did not attempt to stab Collins again, to twist the knife or to chase after him as he stumbled away, McKenna said.
Urbanski also kept the murder weapon in his pocket as he sat at the bus stop nearby, where police would apprehend him soon after.
“That’s not the product of a sober mind,” McKenna said.
And in his holding cell, Urbanski talked to himself, sang and urinated into a drain. Hours later, at nearly 11 a.m., Urbanski’s blood alcohol level was .10, a level that’s above the legal limit to drive.
“He did not have the power to deliberate, to premeditate, to form the intent,” McKenna said. “He committed a crime, absolutely — you know it, we know it, his family knows it — just not first-degree murder.”
Though the defense argued that the racist memes Urbanski had saved to his phone and his membership in a white supremacist Facebook group were “red herrings” in the case, Church argued that a person’s phone is “a window into your mind.”
“What you save is near and dear to you,” he said.
The “poison” coursing through Urbanski’s veins was not racism — as the prosecution stated — but alcohol, McKenna said during closing arguments.
McKenna highlighted that no witnesses described Urbanski as racist during the trial.
The memes displayed by prosecutors were only meant to anger the jury, and compel them to find Urbanski guilty of murder in the first degree, McKenna said.
“If you conclude that Sean is bigoted, that’s OK,” McKenna told the jury. “Sean’s not on trial for being bigoted. He’s not on trial for being racially insensitive. He’s on trial for first-degree murder.”
Ultimately though, Church said there was “no evidence” Urbanski was not in his right mind at the time of the killing.
“He chose his destiny,” Church said.
This story has been updated.