Bail Refused for Suspect in Poisoning Case
Attorney Says Teenager Accused of Killing Friend Was Seeing Psychologist
By Ylan Q. Mui and Mary Otto
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, January 11, 2003; Page B03
An Ellicott City teenager accused of fatally poisoning his longtime friend waived his right yesterday to a preliminary hearing and remained under suicide watch at Howard County Detention Center.
Defense attorney Jan O'Connor said that Ryan Furlough, 18, a senior at Centennial High School, is meeting with a mental health counselor while in custody. The state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene is expected to recommend early next week whether he is fit to stand trial.
Dressed in an orange prison jumpsuit, his hands cuffed in front of him, Furlough appeared calm and said little as he listened via videoconferencing to District Court Judge Neil Edward Axel, who refused him bail. Under suicide watch, Furlough must wear a paper gown in his cell and sleep in a plastic bunk, his attorney said.
O'Connor had requested that Furlough be moved to the University of Maryland's Clifton T. Perkins Hospital Center for evaluation, but the judge denied the request.
"I believe this boy needs help, and he's not getting the help he needs where he is," O'Connor said. She said that Furlough is switching medication to Prozac after a few months on the antidepressant Effexor, as well as other medication.
Furlough had been seeing a psychologist for about a year and a half, O'Connor said, following a mental health evaluation at his high school in spring 2001. He has struggled in school since childhood, requiring tutors, and was failing his classes at Centennial, O'Connor said.
Furlough was arrested Sunday and later charged with first-degree murder in the poisoning death of Benjamin Vassiliev, 17, who was a junior at Centennial and Furlough's friend since kindergarten. If convicted, he faces life in prison without parole.
The two teenagers lived less than a mile from each other. On Jan. 3, Vassiliev went to Furlough's two-story brick house about 30 minutes after school to play video games, according to court documents. They were alone in the basement about 8 p.m. when Vassiliev started having seizures, the documents said. One of Furlough's parents was home and called 911.
Vassiliev was taken to Johns Hopkins Pediatric Intensive Care Unit in Baltimore and died Wednesday. Police suspect Furlough had spiked Vassiliev's Vanilla Coke with potassium cyanide that he had ordered off the Internet using his mother's credit card.
Furlough told police that he had been thinking about killing Vassiliev since October, court documents stated, possibly because he had a crush on Vassiliev's girlfriend of at least six months -- seemingly a lifetime in high school terms, friends said.
Vassiliev's girlfriend spent time at his family's home, along with his friends from the school drama department, after he died Wednesday, students said. Vassiliev had been slated to play the lead role in the school's production of "A Midsummer Night's Dream" early next month. Almost every morning before school, Vassiliev, his girlfriend and "the drama kids" hung out in front of the gym, friends said. The couple were often seen hugging or walking with Furlough in the halls during school.
Since the death, emotions have been raw at Centennial, friends said. Some students have left classes in tears. A crisis intervention team dispatched to the school Tuesday saw about 40 students in one day, officials said.
A private funeral for Vassiliev will be held today at St. John's Episcopal church in Ellicott City. Centennial is planning to hang a banner in his memory in one of its main hallways, the school said.
© 2003 The Washington Post Company