Attorneys for Sean Urbanski — who is currently serving a life sentence for the murder of 1st Lt. Richard Collins III — filed an appeal this week asking the Maryland Court of Special Appeals to throw out his murder charge and order a new trial.
In May 2017, Collins, a student at Bowie State University, was standing at a bus stop near Montgomery Hall when Urbanski fatally stabbed him in the chest. In December 2019, a jury found Urbanski guilty of first-degree murder.
In their appeal, Urbanski’s attorneys argue the trial court acted inappropriately by allowing the jury to see racist memes from Urbanski’s phone after Circuit Court Judge Lawrence Hill dismissed a hate crime charge.
Although the judge dismissed the hate crime charge, he said he believed both race and alcohol were factors in the killing and allowed prosecutors to show the jury at least six photographs of racist memes on Urbanski’s cellphone and that he liked a Facebook group called “Alt-Reich: Nation,” The Associated Press reported.
In addition, Urbanski’s lawyers argue that presenting the material from Urbanski’s phone violated his first and 14th amendment rights — which grant him equal protection under the law and freedoms of speech and expression. The trial court was wrong to use Urbanski’s right to free speech against him, his lawyers argue.
The lawyers also claim the trial court was wrong in refusing a mistrial.
Within the appeal, Urbanski’s lawyers do not question whether Urbanski killed Collins. Nearby surveillance cameras captured the stabbing on video, and there were two eyewitnesses to the murder.
“The defense never suggested that [Urbanski] was not the perpetrator. After the court ruled the memes admissible, the issue at trial became whether [Urbanski] killed the victim because of racial bias notwithstanding legitimate questions about whether the stabbing was premeditated, willful and deliberate,” Urbanski’s lawyers wrote in Tuesday’s appeal.
Urbanski’s lawyers claim prosecutors presented no evidence at the trial that Urbanski made racist statements or held racist views.
“Rather, the State maintained that because [Urbanski] had racist memes on his phone, and because he assaulted a Black man, it followed that he had a racist motive and intent on the night of this crime and acted with that motivation,” the defense wrote in the appeal.