The girl who prosecutors say was the source of jealousy that spurred an Ellicott City teen-ager to poison his friend with cyanide testified yesterday at his murder trial, painting a complex picture of teen-age love, kisses and envy.
During the second day of testimony in Ryan T. Furlough's trial in Howard Circuit Court, Caroline Smith told jurors she and the youth kissed while watching the movie Happy Gilmore at Furlough's house one day toward the end of their junior year. After that, their friendship grew more complicated.
"I don't know why, but I kissed him," said Smith, 18. She said she was upset about it and told her boyfriend of 2 1/2 years, Benjamin Vassiliev, 17, whom Furlough is accused of killing by spiking his soda with cyanide.
Earlier yesterday, the emergency room doctor who treated Vassiliev testified that he believed he could have saved the teen-ager's life had he known about the cyanide. Other witnesses have told jurors that Furlough repeatedly denied any knowledge of what had made Vassiliev sick.
After the kiss with Smith, Furlough, now 19, wrote Vassiliev a letter in June 2002, apologizing for what had happened: "I'm sorry about what I did to you. Believe me, I never intended for it to happen. ... I think by now you realize that I love her very much. ... I will never give up until I have the key to her heart."
In the letter, which Senior Assistant State's Attorney Mary Murphy read aloud in court, Furlough also lamented that he couldn't swim, didn't have friends when he was younger, never performed well in school and no longer enjoyed video games.
Vassiliev responded in a letter, explaining to Furlough that he didn't hate him but was troubled about his feelings for his girlfriend and told him to stop pursuing her.
"I live my life for her. ... The truth that you must know is that Caroline loves me. ... This situation has gone from unpleasant to unbearable for the three of us. ... I hope some day that the three of us, as individuals and as friends, will recover from this and move on," Vassiliev wrote.
Smith said that after the exchange of letters, Furlough and Vassiliev were somewhat distant but that their friendship appeared to recover.
She said Furlough appeared to stop pursuing her in October 2002. That December, she and Vassiliev went to Furlough's birthday party. Vassiliev didn't bring a birthday present, which Smith said upset Furlough.
During Smith's two hours of testimony, Furlough cried at times, the only emotion he has shown since the trial started. For the most part, Furlough has sat with his head low, never looking up.
Smith said she tutored Furlough in chemistry for a few months during their junior year. They sometimes ate lunch together at Centennial High School and worked on an English project together, writing an epic poem. Furlough attended the 2002 prom with Smith, Vassiliev and another couple.
Smith said she and Vassiliev were worried about Furlough and that Furlough said he wanted to kill himself. One night in late summer of 2002, Furlough called Vassiliev and appeared so upset that Vassiliev and Smith rushed to his home.
After the incident, Smith wrote Furlough a letter: "You have to know how much you mean to me. ... There are so many things I love about you, Ryan. ... You are my best friend for a reason."
Smith said she hasn't had contact with Furlough since Vassiliev's death but received a birthday card from him in December, written by his mother for him.
On Dec. 11, 2002, Furlough's cyanide order arrived from Louisville, Ky.-based Antec Inc. William Osteritter, a company vice president who handled Furlough's order, said yesterday that he wasn't suspicious about the order because the youth had also requested cupric nitrate. The two chemicals together are commonly used for electroplating, Osteritter said.
On Jan. 3 last year, the day that Smith told Furlough she would arrive home after a winter vacation in Hawaii, Vassiliev collapsed into seizures while playing video games in Furlough's basement.
Dr. Walter Atha, who treated Vassiliev at Howard County General Hospital, told jurors he was stumped. The youth had a normal pulse and blood pressure rate, but he was unable to breathe on his own and his pupils were unresponsive.
"It was extremely unusual. ... It was a puzzle," Atha testified yesterday. At the hospital, when Vassiliev's family members and police repeatedly asked Furlough if he knew what had caused Vassiliev's condition, Furlough continually responded, "I don't know," witnesses testified Tuesday.
Within about an hour of being taken to the hospital, Vassiliev's pulse and blood pressure dropped rapidly. Atha determined that he should be taken to Johns Hopkins Hospital. When Atha asked the next day about Vassiliev, a doctor told him, "Sit down. You're not going to believe this. It was cyanide. We found cyanide."
Vassiliev died Jan. 8. Atha said that had he known Vassiliev had been poisoned, he could have quickly treated the youth.
"The treatment is a slam dunk," he said. "There is a cyanide kit that is for cyanide poisoning."