Accused killer says he feared he'd lost friend

Police interview of suspect in poisoning played at trial

`He just doesn't care ... anymore'

Furlough's team questions quality, detail of videotape

Ellicott City

May 14, 2004|By Lisa Goldberg | Lisa Goldberg,SUN STAFF

Upset that his friend Ben Vassiliev hadn't given him birthday and Christmas presents and fearful that he no longer "cared," Ryan Furlough told investigators that he turned to the Internet in the fall of 2002 to find the best way to kill Vassiliev - and himself.

He chose cyanide for its simplicity and ability to produce "instantaneous" results, all the while waiting for the 17-year-old Vassiliev to prove him wrong, Furlough said through tears.

"But when it was nothing again and again and again, I started to accept the fact that for some reason or another, he just doesn't care about me anymore," he said during a lengthy videotaped police interview that was played yesterday in Howard Circuit Court during the third day of testimony in Furlough's trial on murder charges.

" ... I wanted to hear him say, `Ryan, come pick up your birthday present or can I come over because I have something for you,' " Furlough said on the videotape.

When Vassiliev didn't come through with a gift during the 2002 Christmas season, a weepy Furlough told investigators, he invited his friend to his Ellicott City home with plans to poison him, but kept questioning his own motives and actions throughout the night - even as he put the cyanide into a Vanilla Coke can.

"And time just seemed to stop, and I just felt like I couldn't control myself. I couldn't control my feelings," he said, his voice almost a whisper at times. But, he said, he poured only some of the cyanide into the soda can before offering it to a thirsty Vassiliev. "Like I said, the rest was for me."

As prosecutors played the video and audio tapes that detailed his account of the events leading to his decision to carry through with the poisoning of Vassiliev on Jan. 3 last year, Furlough, 19, kept his head bowed and sobbed quietly.

Vassiliev, a popular Centennial High School senior, died five days later.

Third day of testimony

The tapes capped three days of testimony that detailed attempts by emergency and medical workers and police to figure out what had happened in the hours after Vassiliev collapsed at the Furloughs' Ellicott City home.

Prosecutors spent the entire day yesterday playing the tapes, which started with a sterile account of the events by a cooperative and polite Furlough and ended with the sobbing teen detailing the poisoning, lamenting his weakness and talking, frequently, of suicide.

"To be honest, I really do want to kill myself, especially now," he told two Howard County detectives.

But defense attorneys said there is no way to tell what detectives might have said to Furlough that would spur his admissions. The audio stopped working just before the detectives confronted the teen about cyanide packaging that was discovered during a search.

By the time the audio resumed, Furlough was crying and detailing his Internet search for a poison.

"We'll never know what you said after allegedly confronting Ryan Furlough with this packaging information that changed his demeanor," defense attorney Joseph Murtha said.

"That's right," said Cpl. Duane Pierce, a detective.

Girlfriend not focus

The tapes detail the months and days leading up to the poisoning. But despite prosecutors' contention that jealousy of Vassiliev's relationship with his girlfriend sparked the killing, she barely rated a mention in Furlough's account.

Instead, he focused on Vassiliev's inattention - that his friend neglected to give him gifts or cards or rarely called.

The perceived slights dated to more than a year before the killing, and his research into finding the right poison started during fall 2002, he said. He knew from his reading that 1.5 grams of cyanide would be enough to kill a "human being," he said. He wanted to kill Vassiliev, he said, but he also thought about his own death.

"I was tired and angry at myself, and I thought I was a coward because I couldn't physically kill myself," he said.

After he got the cyanide through an Internet order and before Christmas break in 2002, Furlough said, he put the poison in his water bottle and offered it to Vassiliev after chemistry class at Centennial. But the water was bitter and Vassiliev spat it out. Furlough said he also tried the water but couldn't drink it.

He said he knew from that incident that he would have to find another drink to mask the taste of the cyanide.

Poison under couch

By the time Vassiliev came over after school Jan. 3, he had put a vial of the poison under the couch, he said.

The two watched a digital video disc, and while Vassiliev was burning a music compact disc on the computer, Furlough said, he put the cyanide in his own soda can.

When Vassiliev said he was thirsty, Furlough said, he gave the teen his drink.

A few minutes later, they were playing video games when Vassiliev said he felt sick, dropped the controller he was holding and struggled to breathe, he said.

Furlough said he later dumped the remaining cyanide on the ground by a tree in front of his house.

Prosecutors rested their case late yesterday. Defense attorneys are scheduled to begin presenting evidence this morning.

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