Ellicott City teen files insanity plea in schoolmate's fatal cyanide poisoning

September 16, 2003|By Lisa Goldberg | Lisa Goldberg,SUN STAFF

An Ellicott City teen-ager accused of fatally poisoning a friend by spiking his soda with cyanide filed an insanity plea in the case yesterday.

Lawyers filed legal notice claiming that Ryan T. Furlough, 18, was not criminally responsible "by reason of insanity" for the death of 17-year-old Benjamin Edward Vassiliev in January.

"It's certainly one of the defenses we're considering in our representation of Ryan," attorney Joseph Murtha said after a brief hearing in Howard County Circuit Court.

Furlough, who is charged with murder, has a history of depression and was being treated for it at the time of the killing, but there were doubts about whether that treatment was "adequate," Murtha said.

In court papers filed shortly after the killing, a second Furlough attorney, Jan O'Connor, wrote that she had obtained a copy of a psychological report that included "disturbing information" that her client was "at risk socially."

Furlough's trial before Howard Circuit Judge Raymond J. Kane Jr. is scheduled Jan. 26.

Furlough is being held at the Howard County Detention Center without bond but is likely to be transferred to Clifton T. Perkins Hospital Center, the state's maximum security psychiatric hospital in Jessup, for evaluation, lawyers said.

Vassiliev, a Centennial High School senior, died Jan. 8, five days after he went into a seizure at Furlough's house, where the two had been playing video games in the basement, according to charging documents and authorities.

Doctors later told investigators that the level of cyanide in Vassiliev's blood was two or three times above normal, and investigators found a package and a label for potassium cyanide in the Furlough home, in the 3500 block of Rhode Valley Terrace, according to charging documents.

Furlough, who was also a Centennial senior, admitted in a police interview that he had bought the poison over the Internet using his mother's credit card and that he had spiked Vassiliev's Vanilla Coke, according to the documents.

He also told investigators that he had been thinking of killing his friend for a few months, the documents state.

Police discovered a letter from Furlough to Vassiliev that detailed his romantic interest in his friend's girlfriend, the documents say. Furlough wrote Vassiliev that he would "never give up until I have the key to her heart," according to court papers.

After yesterday's hearing, Vassiliev's father said it was "painful" to learn that Furlough's lawyers had filed an insanity plea.

"From everything I know since this nightmare began, I am convinced that the accused is responsible for what he did," Walter Vassiliev said.

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