Jury selection is set to begin Monday in a trial poised to decide whether a white man accused of walking up to a black second lieutenant in the U.S. Army and fatally stabbing him on the University of Maryland's campus committed a hate crime. Richard Collins III, a student at the historically black institution of Bowie State University, was visiting the nearby Maryland campus and waiting at a bus stop with two friends when Sean Urbanski approached him at about 3 AM May 20, 2017, according to a petition the 2nd Lieutenant Richard W. Collins III Foundation circulated.
“Step left if you know what’s best for you,” a white man later identified as Urbanski told the group of friends, according to petitioners. Collins reportedly refused just before a knife was forced into his chest. He died just three days before he was set to graduate with a Bachelor of Science in business administration from Bowie State. ”An empty seat, draped with his graduation gown, sat in the arena to honor him throughout the commencement ceremony,” the university said on its website.
His accused killer, Urbanski, allegedly flipped the knife used to stab Collins closed, slid it into his pocket and waited on a bench until police arrived to arrest him about 50 feet from where Collins laid, dying, The Associated Press reported.
Urbanski, a former University of Maryland student, was charged with first-degree murder initially and five months later, a hate crime, Prince George’s County State’s Attorney Angela D. Alsobrooks said at a news conference October 2017. "There was lots and lots of digital evidence, including a phone in this case and other evidence," Alsobrooks said. "And after analyzing all of that evidence, we are comfortable now that we have enough evidence to file a hate crime charge.
Although the FBI reportedly concluded there wasn’t enough evidence to recommend a federal hate crime prosecution against Urbanski, local prosecutors are pointing to extensive evidence to the contrary, according to the AP. Collins, the only black person at the bus stop at the time of his death, was with a white man and Asian woman, the news agency reported. Urbanski had liked a white supremacist Facebook group called “Alt-Reich: Nation” and saved at least six racist memes on his phone, the AP said of the prosecution’s argument. One prosecutor said a meme pictured on Urbanski’s phone “advocates violence against blacks” and another depicts a noose, handgun, and poison, all of which Circuit Court Judge Lawrence Hill Jr. allowed into the trial as evidence, according to the AP.
Meanwhile, Collins’ parents, Richard Collins Jr. and Dawn Collins, had to grieve their son while also fighting with the U.S. Army to have him receive full acknowledgment of his service “as a member in good standing of the United States Army,” said organizers of the petition linked on the foundation website. Collins III was commissioned second lieutenant two days before his death, petitioners maintain.
“In the days immediately following 2nd Lt. Collins’ murder, the U.S. Army informed the parents that they would not provide any military honors or benefits to his parents because he had not been assigned an Active Duty designation...” petition organizers said in the plea to the public. “The family received no assistance or support from the Army at all after his murder.” Even a request for assistance to the Department of Veteran Affairs to provide a headstone for his gravesite was denied, petition organizers said.
The petition started with the goal of attracting 1,000 signatures and was just short of 830 Sunday evening. “This great nation relies on the U.S. Army to protect us all from enemies foreign and domestic while living up to its creed of duty, honor, country,” petitioners said in the plea. “Therefore, we fervently implore that the U.S. Army honor its own creed.”