Howard Week


May 23, 2004

Ellicott City teen convicted of murder in friend's poisoning

An Ellicott City teenager who spent several months researching the best way to kill before spiking his best friend's soda with cyanide was convicted Monday of first-degree murder.

The Howard County jury deliberated for less than three hours before returning the guilty verdict. Jurors apparently rejected a defense argument that Ryan T. Furlough, 19, was so depressed and so heavily medicated that he could not have been thinking rationally when he slipped cyanide into a soda can last year and offered it to 17-year-old Benjamin Vassiliev.

"Depression does not justify murder, and the jury demonstrated common sense in coming to that conclusion," Howard State's Attorney Timothy J. McCrone said after the verdict.

But Furlough's mother -- who said she loved Vassiliev "like a son" -- said she worries about the message the verdict sends about mental illness and about physicians' decisions to give high doses of controversial anti-depressants to youths.

"Please, please re-evaluate who you're taking your children to -- what they're doing and what they're prescribing -- because your children are at risk," Susan Furlough said.

Former GOP leaders oppose referendum

Howard County's Republicans are eagerly backing a petition to limit the county executive's ability to raise taxes via a charter referendum, but the party's two most prominent elder statesmen oppose the idea.

Charles I. Ecker, a two-term county executive, and Charles C. Feaga, a three-term councilman and a county executive candidate in 1998, said changing the structure of government because of one tax increase is not wise.

Both men opposed the 30 percent income tax increase pushed through last year by Democratic County Executive James N. Robey. But they refused to sign the Howard County Taxpayers Association petition -- which would require the executive to get a super-majority of the County Council to approve future tax increases -- that was promoted at the county GOP's annual Lincoln Day dinner May 7.

Officials concerned about affordable housing

Howard County housing officials, concerned about the growing threat to affordable housing created by the closure of mobile-home parks in the U.S. 1 corridor, are seeking ways to help distressed residents.

Leonard S. Vaughan, the county's housing director, said a study of Howard mobile-home parks -- containing more than 2,000 units -- is under way, and county officials are considering laws to help protect buyers who might be unaware that the park they are moving to could close. Because homebuyers don't own the land, the units depreciate in value and often can't be feasibly moved.

Increasingly, owners of Howard mobile-home parks are deciding to close and redevelop because of soaring land values and building along the U.S. 1 corridor, where most of the parks are located.

The result is that hundreds of units of scarce affordable housing are disappearing in a county where the average home sale price last month was $344,000.

Preservation group lists endangered properties

A Civil War battery, a deteriorating amusement park and a 19th-century African-American meetinghouse are the latest additions to Preservation Howard County's annual list of most endangered properties.

Each year, the nonprofit historic-preservation organization shines a spotlight on 10 locations in the county that it believes are most in need of attention. This year's list includes newcomers Claremont Overlook and the Enchanted Forest, both in Ellicott City, and Mount Moriah Lodge, near Savage.

Seven other structures return to the list, still in need of improvements and preservation.

Kittleman backs efforts against park lights

Efforts to keep stadium lights out of a new western Howard County park got a significant boost when County Councilman Allan H. Kittleman filed an amendment last week to remove funding for lights from the proposed county budget.

Kittleman, a Republican whose district includes the Western Regional Park site, said he received hundreds of e-mails and held meetings with residents on both sides of the issue before siding with the anti-lights group.

"There are many people in my district who are upset and probably an equal number that think I did the right thing," Kittleman said. "I'm just not convinced right now that the demand [for fields] requires the lights."

Residents have been divided over lighting since the county's Department of Recreation and Parks requested $3.2 million for lights on five fields set to open next spring, artificial turf on two fields and other construction costs.

Five more fields are planned without lights.

North Laurel man, 24, sentenced for child abuse

A 24-year-old North Laurel man convicted of violently shaking his 6-month-old daughter last year, leaving her with serious and likely permanent injuries, was sentenced Thursday to six years in prison.

The girl, who will be 2 years old in August, is still not walking or talking and has problems with her vision and, possibly, hearing as a result of the abuse at the hands of her father, McKim McKenny Simmons, according to prosecutors.

"For days, it wasn't clear if she would live or die. That is because of the actions of the defendant," said prosecutor Mary Murphy, who urged Howard Circuit Judge Diane O. Leasure to impose a sentence longer than the six-year maximum recommended by state sentencing guidelines.

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