Ryan T. Furlough, the Ellicott City teenager who fatally laced his best friend's soda with cyanide last year, was sentenced yesterday to life in prison by a judge who said he did not want to cut off any chance that the 19-year-old could one day earn his release.
The sentence - a middle ground between life without parole, which prosecutors sought, and the shorter term requested by defense attorneys - was imposed at the end of an emotional four-hour hearing that brought a simmering debate over the use of antidepressant drugs by youths to the forefront.
It also left both sides disappointed.
For Furlough's mother, it was further proof that the judicial system is unwilling to acknowledge her belief that the antidepressants prescribed for her son led him to kill his Centennial High School classmate and friend Ben Vassiliev, 17.
"This is not an isolated case. I wish it was. ... What does it take for our society to wake up? We've got the wakeup call now," Susan Furlough said.
For Vassiliev's family, it meant an uncertain future filled with parole hearings.
"It's not over. This will never end for me now," said Erik Vassiliev, Ben's 15-year-old brother.
The teenager's father, Walter Vassiliev, said last night that his son's death should have been enough to convince the judge that Ryan Furlough "should be put away for good."
"Ryan Furlough can be treated and he can be medicated, but he can never be rehabilitated," he said. "Ryan Furlough needs to be incarcerated forever and ever, because you can't cure evil."
Circuit Judge Raymond J. Kane Jr. said he was not prepared to rule out any chance that Furlough, who had no previous criminal record or history of substance abuse, could one day convince a parole board that he deserved to be freed.
"There's no indication ... that he's a hardened criminal," Kane said before imposing the sentence for first-degree murder.
Yesterday in court, Vassiliev's parents described a promising life cut short by their son's trust and desire to help a lonely friend. Ben Vassiliev, they said, was a caring and talented teen-ager who loved life and saw beauty in everything.
"Sunrise and sunset, I always think of Ben," said Vassiliev's mother, Karen Dale-Barrett, her voice thick with emotion.
"I always loved Ben," Walter Vassiliev said. "But as he evolved into this magnificent human being, I grew to admire him and to respect him."
When he went to Ryan Furlough's house, in the 3500 block of Rhode Valley Trail, to play video games and watch a movie Jan. 3 last year, he and his parents couldn't know what had been lurking in Furlough's mind - about the Internet research into cyanide and the poison stashed under a basement couch, said Senior Assistant State's Attorney Mary Murphy.
Furlough later told investigators that he felt slighted and feared that his friend no longer cared when Vassiliev did not give him presents on his birthday and holidays.