Hill said he reviewed dozens of letters and victim impact statements on behalf of both men, telling the court he believed his decision to be “fair and just.”
“Both their lives ended that night,” the judge said.
But Hill also spoke plainly about issues at the center of the case — racism, white supremacy and hate speech — and made clear that he believed prejudice was a factor in Collins’s murder, despite his previous dismissal of a hate-crime charge in the case.
Urbanski, who is White, was arrested on May 20, 2017, soon after he attacked 23-year-old Collins, who was Black, with a three-inch pocket knife at a bus stop on the University of Maryland campus in College Park. Collins was there visiting friends and was just days away from graduating with a business degree from Bowie State University. He had also been commissioned into the U.S. Army as a second lieutenant through the ROTC program, following in the military footsteps of the father and grandfather who share his name.
Urbanski, now 25, was a U-Md. student at the time of the stabbing. Prosecutors said that after a day of drinking, Urbanski approached Collins and two friends, a White man and an Asian woman, around 3 a.m.
“Step left, step left if you know what’s best for you,” Urbanski said to Collins, according to court documents. When the young man refused, Urbanski stabbed him.
He was charged with first-degree murder and a hate crime after authorities discovered that he belonged to a white-supremacist Facebook group called “Alt-Reich: Nation” and had racist memes stored on his phone.
But the hate-crime charge was ultimately dismissed by Hill after the state closed its case — ruling that it had not met its legal burden outlined in the state statute, which at the time was narrowly defined and rarely applied in criminal court cases.
The decision was a crushing blow for Collins’s family and the prosecutor’s office at the time, State’s Attorney Aisha Braveboy said in a recent interview, and they spoke with raw emotion about the toll of that decision during the sentencing hearing Thursday.
“In my opinion,” Dawn Collins said, “my son’s greatest crime was that he said no to a White man.”
Said Principal Deputy State’s Attorney Jason Abbott: “On May 20, 2017, Richard Collins’s Black life did not matter to the defendant.” Abbott tied the defendant’s racist social media activity to the “poison” the country encountered last week, when a mob of pro-Trump rioters violently overtook the U.S. Capitol.
At trial and again during the sentencing hearing Thursday, Urbanski’s attorneys acknowledged that he killed Collins but said he was acting on an alcohol-fueled impulse. His blood alcohol content was three times the legal limit, defense attorney John McKenna said, and to this day Urbanski says he has no recollection of the stabbing.
McKenna said Thursday that Urbanski and his counsel had never denied that he interacted with the racist content, but countered the idea that he was a “hate-filled, right-wing nut.”
Urbanski’s mother told the judge she was “furious” with her son for engaging with “heartless” ideas but insisted he was not raised to be hateful. She said that growing up, her son’s idol was her father, a civil rights attorney who helped desegregate schools.
She also spoke directly to the victim’s parents, Dawn and Richard Collins.
“There is so much I have wanted to say to you over the last three years, but I honestly don’t know how I am going to put that into words,” Elizabeth Urbanski said. “Your son Richard should be here, and it’s my son Sean’s fault he is not.”
Much of the stories shared Thursday before the judge were about the life of Richard Collins III — and the anguish his family and the Black community more broadly has felt over his death.
In speeches and statements, his sister, his cousins, his family friends and his parents spoke of the duty he felt to serve his country patriotically, how he wanted to be a father and husband one day, how he was murdered, in their minds, for being a Black man in America.
“Richard came into our lives at 10 years of marriage. Needless to say, I was overjoyed when I found out I was with child,” Dawn Collins said. “When I found out I was having a boy, instantly, I was struck with fear. A Black man in America, oh my God.”
His parents said that they still wake up in the middle of the night every day, around the same time their son was stabbed. They said they cannot remove from their mind the image of state troopers knocking on their door to say their son was dead.
They shared that their son’s grandfather, the first Richard Collins, was a Korean War veteran. He, too, was murdered by a White man.
“Richard, my son, was proud to step into the footsteps of his father and his grandfather to serve this country,” Dawn Collins said.
“I often visit the location where my son was murdered at the University of Maryland College Park,” she said. “Just sit on that bench and look to the heavens and ask, God why? Why?”
When it was his turn to talk at the end of the hearing, Urbanski said there was “no excuse” for what he had done.
“Mr. and Mrs. Collins, I am so sincerely sorry for what I’ve done,” he said. “If I could switch places with your son, I would in a heartbeat.”
He told the judge: “I and I alone am fully to blame for this tragedy. Your honor, I deserve punishment for my actions, and I deserve any punishment you decide is acceptable.”
Before he offered his sentence, Hill said he was struck by the parallels of the Urbanski and Collins families. Both men had good parents, both were raised to value higher education, the judge said. But he said there were clearly things about Urbanski that his family did not know.
“Alcohol was a factor, that’s without question, but I don’t believe frankly that this case is everything either side has made it out to be,” the judge said. “Alcohol did not cause Mr. Urbanski to murder Lt. Collins. It was an element, it was a factor. Alcohol does not cause someone to do something that is not within themselves.”
The judge, who is Black, said that “race is always amongst us.” He told Urbanski that the detail from his mother’s letter about his grandfather stood out to him.
“How disappointed your grandfather would be, for you to be here today,” the judge said.
Under the judge’s sentence, Urbanski could be considered for parole after 15 years in prison, though he could only be released if he is both recommended by the state parole board and the governor agrees to it.
Collins’s parents were the first family Braveboy met with when she took office two years ago, she said in a recent interview.
“It was, I knew, the biggest case I was going to have, at least in my first term here as state’s attorney,” Braveboy said. “And it was a case that was very near and dear to me. I went to the University of Maryland … and so for this to happen on a campus that I walked on at one point, it touched me.”
Just months after the conviction, Braveboy’s office and the Collins family fought for a bill, the 2nd Lieutenant Richard Collins III’s Law, to be introduced in the General Assembly that expanded the definition of a hate crime to include a motivation “in whole or in substantial part” based on someone’s identity.
The bill passed last spring and became law.
“His legacy lives on through his parents, through a foundation that they set up, and really through this case and through this new law,” Braveboy said. “He is going to live forever.”
Collins was posthumously promoted to first lieutenant in the Army.
In October, Bowie State and U-Md. announced a partnership to promote social justice and honor Collins’s legacy by studying racism and making recommendations for criminal justice system reforms.