A 25-year-old white man who stabbed a Black college student to death during a chance encounter on the University of Maryland’s main campus in 2017 in what prosecutors said was a racially motivated hate crime was sentenced on Thursday to life in prison.
The man, Sean C. Urbanski, was convicted in December 2019 by a jury in Prince George’s County, Md., of first-degree murder in the death of Richard W. Collins III.
Mr. Collins, 23, was days away from graduating from nearby Bowie State University and had recently been commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Army. He was preparing to move to Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., for training in defending the country against chemical attacks.
“He was on a pinnacle of doing great things,” Dawn Collins, Mr. Collins’s mother, said at a news conference on Thursday after the sentencing.
The 2017 encounter between the men was brief and violent, and the killing cast a pall over what would have been a festive period on both campuses.
According to the University of Maryland police, in the early hours of May 20, Mr. Collins and two friends were standing at a bus stop in front of a dormitory on Maryland’s campus when they heard Mr. Urbanski, then 22, screaming. They watched as he approached them.
“Step left, step left if you know what’s best for you,” Mr. Urbanski said, according to the police. Mr. Collins said no, and Mr. Urbanski plunged a three- to four-inch silver blade into his chest, the police said a witness had told them.
When police officers arrived, they found Mr. Urbanski, a University of Maryland student, sitting on a bench a few feet from where witnesses said he had just stabbed Mr. Collins, officials said. Mr. Collins was pronounced dead after 4 a.m., just three days before he was scheduled to graduate from Bowie State.
At the time, Mr. Urbanski’s attack did not qualify as a hate crime under Maryland law, officials said. Mr. Collins’s parents successfully lobbied to change the law, which went into effect in October. Now, a suspect’s prior activity, not just rhetoric at the scene, can be considered evidence of intent. That new law was named after Mr. Collins.
Under Maryland law, offenders sentenced to life in prison are eligible for parole after 15 years, according to the Prince George’s County state’s attorney, Aisha Braveboy. William Brennan, a lawyer for Mr. Urbanski, said his client could be eligible for parole sooner, accounting for time already served and good behavior.
After the attack, officials said they were investigating the episode as a possible hate crime.
Mr. Urbanski was a member of a Facebook group that had trafficked in anti-Black and sexist memes. The group was shut down after the attack, and its administrator, Alex Goodman, said it had been intended as satire. “Nothing is meant as true,” Mr. Goodman told The New York Times. “I condemn those who believe in white supremacy.”
At the news conference on Thursday, a prosecutor in the case said Mr. Urbanski had had plenty of access to such messaging.
“The number of racist and hate memes that were on his phone were just baffling,” said Jonathan Church, a deputy Prince George’s state’s attorney.
Mr. Brennan said at sentencing that his client was “extraordinarily remorseful” and that he deeply regretted what he had done.
Elizabeth Urbanski, Mr. Urbanski’s mother, expressed her “horror and devastation” over her son’s crime. She told Mr. Collins’s parents, according to The Associated Press, “Your son Richard should be here, and it’s my son Sean’s fault that he’s not.”
At the news conference, Ms. Collins said her son had been looking forward to a bright future.
“He had aspired to be the next Gen. Colin Powell,” Ms. Collins said, referring to the retired four-star general and former secretary of state. “And there was nothing that was going to stop him.”
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