Allegations over accused teen's paper disputed by O'Rourke

Occupational profile said to be aim

Furlough charged in poisoning

January 08, 2003|By Jason Song | Jason Song,SUN STAFF

Ryan Thomas Furlough, the Centennial High School senior accused of poisoning his friend with cyanide last week, was not assigned to write an essay from the point of view of a murderer, Howard County Superintendent John O'Rourke said yesterday.

Furlough was ordered to "put himself in the shoes" of a murderer as part of a ninth-grade English assignment, his lawyer and mother said Monday.

"There is no substance to the allegations that the assignment given to Ryan required him to write a composition from the viewpoint of a murderer," O'Rourke said in a news release sent by e-mail to The Sun yesterday afternoon.

Furlough's parents said the essay was the first sign that he suffered from depression and noted he had been seeing psychiatrists and taking anti-depressants ever since, said his lawyer, Jan O'Connor.

Furlough, 18, of the 3500 block of Rhode Valley Trail in Ellicott City, has been charged with attempted first-degree murder and other crimes for allegedly putting potassium cyanide in Benjamin Edward Vassiliev's can of soda Friday as the two played video games at Furlough's home.

Furlough, who was romantically interested in Vassiliev's girlfriend, bought the cyanide on the Internet in October, according to police charging documents. Furlough was planning to commit suicide after he killed his longtime friend, according to O'Connor.

Vassiliev, a 17-year-old junior at Centennial High School, was admitted to the Johns Hopkins Hospital Friday and was reported to be in critical condition on Monday. Hospital officials would not release any information of Vassiliev's condition yesterday at the request of his parents.

When he was admitted to the hospital Friday, Vassiliev had a blood cyanide level two to three times higher than normal, according to charging documents.

O'Rourke did not read Furlough's paper but reviewed the assignment, which the superintendent said instructed students to select an occupation that interests them and to describe a typical day in the profession in two or three paragraphs.

The assignment was related to the novel To Kill a Mockingbird. Attorney Atticus Finch, a character in the novel who is defending a man accused of rape, tells his daughter: "You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view." The school system prohibits teaching methods that force students to make life-or-death decisions, O'Rourke said.

"I want to assure parents that the actual lesson and the assignment given were consistent with sound instructional practice and have been in use in the ninth-grade curriculum at Centennial for years," O'Rourke said.

O'Connor said late yesterday that her client said he had no choice but to write about being a murderer. Furlough's teacher went around the room with a hat or bowl full of occupations written onto small pieces of folded paper and Furlough chose a piece of paper that had "murderer" written on it, O'Connor said.

O'Rourke said the review revealed "nothing about a bowl."

"There's no indication of anything like that," he said.

Furlough is being held without bond at the Howard County Detention Center in Jessup. Howard County District Court Judge Neil Edward Axel is considering an order that would place Furlough in a maximum security state mental hospital.

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