Judge to allow testimony on Furlough's mental state

Murder suspect, 19, dropped insanity plea

April 25, 2004|By Sandy Alexander | Sandy Alexander,SUN STAFF

A Howard County judge left the door open Friday for testimony about the mental health of an Ellicott City teen-ager accused of fatally poisoning a classmate, even though the young man's lawyers have decided not to pursue an insanity defense.

Howard Circuit Judge Raymond J. Kane Jr. refused to bar an expert witness who said in a report submitted to the court that Ryan T. Furlough, 19, suffered from an adjustment disorder and depression and that he "possessed no reason or understanding" of his actions because of his emotional trauma and distress.

Kane said he was unclear about what that part of the report meant and that he believed the expert's testimony could be appropriate at the trial. The scope and content of that testimony could be the subject of future discussions.

The judge did bar the witness from testifying about his conclusion that Furlough was unable to "form specific intent" at the time of the incident. Such testimony is not allowed by law unless there is an insanity defense.

According to charging documents, Furlough admitted to police that he bought cyanide over the Internet and put it in Benjamin Edward Vassiliev's soda while they were playing video games at Furlough's home on Jan. 3 last year. Vassiliev, 17, died five days later.

One of Furlough's lawyers, Joseph Murtha, said during Friday's hearing that information about the young man's mental health is "not only legitimate but meritorious."

He hopes evidence about the defendant's problems will help the jury decide he could not have willfully planned his friend's death and is not guilty of first-degree murder.

With the agreement of lawyers for both sides, Kane ordered Furlough to undergo an evaluation by a state mental health expert before his trial May 10.

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