By Mark F. Gray
AFRO Staff Writer
mgray@afro.com

After the prosecution of Sean Urbanski for the murder of Army 2nd Lt. Richard Collins III on the University of Maryland campus in 2017, Prince George’s County State’s Attorney Aisha Braveboy promised to push for stronger prosecutorial leniency in pursuing hate crimes.

Braveboy got her wish as Maryland lawmakers passed new legislation that stipulates other factors that can be considered motivation for what constitutes a hate crime.  Maryland’s Senate and House of Representatives passed separate bills that allow prosecutors to now prove that hate crimes could be committed because of evidence beyond overwhelming prejudice or illegal disdain.

After the murder of 2nd Lt. Richard Collins III in 2017, State’s Attorney Aisha Braveboy is leading the effort to have
stronger prosecutorial leniency in pursuing hate crimes, with a bill named in his honor. (Courtesy Photos)

The County’s State’s Attorney began her quest for changes in the hate crime statute following last December’s conviction of Urbanski.  Early in Urbanski’s trial, Prince George’s County Circuit Court Judge Lawrence Hill ruled that prosecutors didn’t prove Urbanski, who is White, stabbed and took the life of Collins specifically because he was Black while standing on a bus stop in College Park.  It was the judge’s assertion that the state’s prosecutors in the case failed to meet their burden for the jury to consider the hate-crime charge despite pleas from the victim’s family and Braveboy’s office.

In his ruling Judge Hill said despite Urbanski having racist memes on his phone, prosecutors didn’t present any evidence or testimony that he had made any racist comments or promoted violence against anyone based on personal prejudice.   

The fact that Urbanski had racist memes on his phone “shows some evidence of the defendant’s ideology,” the judge said, but he then ruled that prosecutors hadn’t shown it was the motive for Collins’ murder.

“In 2019, there were zero convictions in all of Maryland’s Circuit Courts under the current hate crime statute,” Braveboy said in a statement. “The {2nd Lt. Richard Collins III Law} will ensure that individuals who commit a hate crime are prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”

In separate bills the House and Senate agreed to give Maryland prosecutors greater latitude to prove that violent crimes were motivated by a series of factors beyond extreme animosity towards a victim.  {Senate Bill-606} and {House Bill-917} give prosecutors authority to try and prove the a hate crime was “motivated either in whole or in substantial part by another person’s or group’s race, color, religious beliefs, sexual orientation, gender, disability, national origin, or because another person or group is homeless.”

Following the Urbanski trial, Braveboy and the Collins family began advocating for Maryland to strengthen the hate crime law after that count against him was dropped. Currently, the maximum penalty for state hate crimes is 20 years in prison, which can be added to a life sentence for murder.

Maryland’s hate crime statute is not a separate law, as it is in federal courts. However, the state’s hate crime statute can only be applied if there is a victim’s death. Urbanski is scheduled to be sentenced in April for murdering Collins and prosecutors are seeking life in prison.

If Governor Larry Hogan signs the law it is expected to become legal in October.