Accused teen called reticent

Furlough, 19, is charged in friend's fatal poisoning

`Next thing he said was chilling'

Helped little after youth's seizure started, court told

Ellicott City

May 12, 2004|By Lisa Goldberg and Laura Cadiz | Lisa Goldberg and Laura Cadiz,SUN STAFF

With his deathly ill son clinging to life, Walter Vassiliev said he turned to the one person he was certain knew the cause - his son's friend and classmate, Ryan Furlough.

But the Ellicott City teen-ager, who had been playing video games with Ben Vassiliev when Vassiliev began to have a seizure, offered no information, answering every question with the words, "I don't know," Walter Vassiliev said yesterday during the first day of testimony in Furlough's murder trial in Howard County Circuit Court.

"The next thing he said to me was chilling. ... He just looked at me and said, `They haven't figured it out yet?' " he said.

An emergency worker, two police officers, Walter Vassiliev and his friend testified yesterday that in the minutes and hours after Ben Vassiliev lost consciousness in the Furlough family basement Jan. 3 last year they all turned to the teen for answers that could help them figure out what was ailing his friend. Ben Vassiliev died five days later.

But Furlough offered only negatives: No, Ben did not do drugs or alcohol, and no, he did not know what was going on, the witnesses said.

In fact, prosecutors said yesterday, Furlough knew exactly what had happened: He had spiked a Vanilla Coke with cyanide and offered it to his friend to drink, Howard State's Attorney Timothy J. McCrone told jurors during his opening statement.

The prosecutor said Furlough, now 19, told investigators that he had tried to poison Vassiliev once before. Furlough, who ordered the poison over the Internet in late November 2002, told authorities that he had previously offered the 17-year-old a drink from his water bottle after chemistry class at Centennial High School, but that Vassiliev spit the liquid out because of its bitter taste, McCrone said. Cyanide has a "bitter, almond odor," the prosecutor said.

Furlough decided to kill his friend because he was "determined to have" Ben Vassiliev's girlfriend, McCrone said.

"This is a case about evil ... and meticulously planned murder," McCrone said.

But defense attorneys said yesterday that the crime is not so easily explained. Furlough was a depressed young man who struggled in school, was heavily medicated because of psychiatric troubles and was increasingly isolated, defense attorney Jan O'Connor said during her opening statement.

Furlough, who had few friends, had contemplated suicide, and his Internet research started because he was "trying to find a way, a quick way out for himself," she said. His depression had impaired his judgment, she said.

"In his closed world, in his clouding of what reality really was, he made a terrible, terrible, terrible choice to kill himself and to kill his best friend," O'Connor said. Furlough is "dead inside," she said.

Witnesses and lawyers for both sides offered new details of the crime: that Furlough's cyanide order arrived on his birthday, Dec. 11, after he repeatedly pestered the company to deliver it; that Furlough placed the cyanide vial in Vassiliev's bag after his friend slumped over; that authorities, who couldn't figure out what was wrong, initially grilled his friends about whether Vassiliev was depressed or used drugs.

Had they known, they could have quickly tracked down an "antidote kit" to try to reverse the effects of the cyanide, said John Breznak, the paramedic who treated Vassiliev.

Witnesses also testified that they saw Furlough comforting Vassiliev's girlfriend at the hospital. And an investigator testified that police found a June 19, 2003, letter from Furlough in Ben Vassiliev's home in which Furlough wrote: "There's not a day that goes by that I don't think of her. ... I will never give up until I have the key to her heart."

In the letter, which Howard County Detective Anna Hollern read aloud, Furlough also lamented about how he can't swim, didn't have friends when he was younger, never performed well in school and no longer enjoys video games.

Testimony is scheduled to resume this morning.

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