Former University of Maryland student Sean Urbanski was sentenced to life in prison Thursday for the 2017 murder of 1st Lt. Richard Collins III.
Urbanski, who is white, was found guilty of first-degree murder in the fatal stabbing of Collins, a Black Bowie State University student, in December 2019. While Judge Lawrence Hill initially greenlit the prosecution’s pursuit of a hate crime charge against Urbanski, he later ruled that the state had not provided sufficient evidence to support the charge.
In a virtual sentencing hearing on Thursday, Hill said he will recommend that Urbanski serve his sentence at the Patuxent Institution, a correctional mental health center in Jessup, Maryland. Though state prosecutors urged Hill to bar Urbanski from seeking parole, Hill ultimately declined.
At a press conference after the sentencing hearing, state’s attorney Jason Abbott said Urbanski will become eligible for parole after 15 years. But, he added, that doesn’t mean he’ll get parole at that time. For someone sentenced to life in Maryland to get parole, the governor must sign off on it.
At the press conference, Collins’ parents, Richard Jr. and Dawn Collins, noted they were disappointed the judge did not bar Urbanski from seeking parole. Still, they said they were happy with his sentence and would continue their work to honor their son’s legacy and make a difference in the world.
“We’re gonna fight on. We will not be quiet,” Dawn Collins said. “Because this scourge of hate has cost my family way too much. And it’s costing many, many people in America.”
In May 2017, days before he was set to graduate, Collins drove to College Park for a night out with friends. At around 3 a.m. on May 20, 2017, as he stood at a bus stop near Montgomery Hall with two students from this university, Urbanski approached them.
Urbanski told Collins to “step left if you know what’s best for you,” according to court documents. When Collins refused, Urbanski stabbed him with a three-inch pocket knife. Collins was taken to the hospital, where he later died.
Thursday’s hearing, which lasted about three hours, began with state prosecutor Jonathon Church playing two videos for the court that depicted Collins’ life and character. One of the videos showed Collins speaking at his ROTC graduation, just days before his murder.
The court then allowed those who were close to Collins and his family to address the impact of his murder. Family friends, in addition to Collins’ parents, spoke about the young man’s goals and the legacy he has left behind.
Although Collins’ sister, Robin Collins, was not able to attend the hearing, she prepared a statement to be read by a family friend. She reflected on how the death of her only sibling has affected her in many ways.
“I feel his absence everyday, from the silence that seems to echo from his room to the memories that flooded my brain whenever I see one of his belongings,” she wrote in her statement. “He wasn’t just my brother. He was my closest friend, my protector and so much more. Without him, it feels as though I am missing a piece of myself.”
The state prosecutors then continued their argument that Urbanski should be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Abbott argued the evidence produced in the case showed that race was a motive in Collins’ murder.
Abbott referred to racist memes found on Urbanski’s phone, in addition to Urbanski’s membership in a Facebook group that paid homage to Adolf Hitler, called “Alt-Reich: Nation.”
“Adolf Hitler was one of the most terrifying figures in world history. He was a torturer, a murderer. He tried to exterminate a race of people. And anybody that’s gonna sit there and say that this is a good person, but they pay homage to Adolf Hitler — that’s not a good person,” Abbott said.
Abbott then went on to argue that Urbanski could not be rehabilitated, telling the court, “You cannot trust him once he gets out of prison. This murder occurred without any catalyst, without any altercation, without any … previous contact with Lt. Collins.”
[Maryland General Assembly passes hate crime bill in honor of Richard Collins]
After the state’s arguments, Urbanski’s defense team urged the judge to consider sentencing Urbanski to life with the possibility of parole.
John McKenna, an attorney on Urbanski’s defense team, argued Urbanski could be rehabilitated, citing his most recent defendant status report that showed Urbanski has not engaged in any conflict during his time at the Howard County Rehabilitation Center.
McKenna also argued that Urbanski was “too drunk” to remember what he had done or why he did it, noting that Urbanski’s blood alcohol level was found to be three times the legal limit.
“He was 22 and extremely intoxicated and immediately and sincerely remorseful,” McKenna said. “This is not a life without parole case.”
After the defense’s remarks, Urbanski’s mother, Elizabeth Urbanski, was given the chance to speak on behalf of her son. She first addressed Collins’ parents and apologized for what her son did. She then went on to explain that she raised Urbanski and his brother in a Christian household, adding that while growing up, Urbanski was a “goofball” and often told jokes.
Then, Urbanski addressed the court, first apologizing to Collins’ parents for taking their son’s life and then taking accountability for his murder.
“I alone am to blame for this tragedy. I take full responsibility for my actions that night. I’m ashamed and disgusted with myself,” he said. “Your Honor, I deserve to be punished for my actions, and I accept whatever sentence you decide is acceptable.”
At the press conference following the sentencing hearing, Prince George’s County State’s Attorney Aisha Braveboy said Urbanski’s sentencing sends the message that hatred, bigotry and racism will not be tolerated in the county and will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.
Though she said she grieves the fact that she was never able to meet Collins, she stressed that his legacy will be remembered. There is now a scholarship for historically Black colleges and universities given in his name. In March, as a coronavirus shutdown loomed in the state, the Maryland General Assembly passed a bill named after Collins that expanded the definition of hate crimes in Maryland, making them easier to prosecute.
And in a campuswide email sent shortly after the sentencing, University of Maryland President Darryll Pines wrote that the school is continuing to plan for a physical memorial on the campus to honor Collins’ life.
“While I will never have the opportunity to get to know 1st Lt. Richard Collins III personally, he has affected me,” Braveboy said. “He has affected the state. And he will affect the world.”
This story has been updated.