Ryan Furlough, on trial for murder in Howard County, told police in a videotaped statement that he felt out of control as he plotted to poison Benjamin Vassiliev, his close friend and high school classmate. He said "things just seemed to flow by themselves."
"Every second I was doing it, I just felt that I couldn't control myself anymore," Furlough, now 19, told detectives the day after he slipped cyanide into Vassiliev's Vanilla Coke. "I wanted my pain to stop."
Jurors scribbled notes as they watched the videotape yesterday on the third day of testimony in Furlough's trial in Circuit Court. The former Centennial High School student is charged with first-degree murder in the death of the 17-year-old Vassiliev.
In the five-hour videotaped interrogation -- part of which lacks audio because of an equipment malfunction, police said -- Furlough told detectives that he and Vassiliev agreed to play videogames and watch the Vin Diesel action movie "XXX" in the basement of Furlough's home Jan. 3, 2003.
Speaking softly and by turns languid and tearful, Furlough admitted the poisoning and said he also had planned to take his own life. He said he was driven in part by Vassiliev's repeated failure to give him gifts on holidays and birthdays.
"I was getting so angry," he said, recalling the fatal evening. "And then I remembered the reason I invited him over." He described reaching under a couch, feeling for a vial of cyanide he had put there earlier, as Vassiliev worked on a nearby computer. He admitted spiking the soda, saying he then watched as a seizure racked Vassiliev.
As he spoke, seated at a table in a small police interview room, a camera in the ceiling captured his body language but not his facial expressions. He talked quietly, sniffling frequently and sometimes sobbing.
Defense attorneys have said Furlough was emotionally distraught and close to suicide at the time of the crime. For that reason, they said, they hope jurors convict him of a lesser offense -- perhaps second-degree murder or manslaughter.
Rarely during the interrogation did Furlough mention Caroline Smith, Vassiliev's girlfriend. Furlough declared his love for her in the year before the poisoning, and prosecutors have offered that as a motive for the slaying. Furlough instead focused on Vassiliev's failure to give him gifts. Furlough said he took his friends' birthdays seriously, spending never less than $15 and usually about $20 for their gifts. But Vassiliev did not reciprocate.
"When there was nothing again and again, I started to think for some reason or other he just doesn't care about me anymore," Furlough said. On one occasion, Vassiliev gave him a Japanese cookbook. Furlough, however, recognized it as having come from a bookshelf in Vassiliev's home. "It wasn't even wrapped," he said. "He just didn't care."
"I was trying to forgive him because I didn't have many friends and he was one of the best that I had," Furlough said. But "I wanted to do harm to him. I wanted to kill him."
He chose poison, he said, because it seemed simple, sure-fire, and he did not consider himself "stable" enough to confront Vassiliev directly. But when the poison took hold, he said, he was left cursing himself.
"What have I done?" Furlough recalled saying. "If anyone deserved to die, it was me."
Furlough was composed at the outset of the interview that began with seemingly routine questions. Detectives informed him of his right to remain silent, but he was not under arrest and investigators initially were not hostile.
About two hours later, detectives learned that a search of Furlough's home had turned up packaging material for cyanide. So they decided to directly accuse Furlough of the poisoning, Detective Daniel Lenick testified yesterday.
How they did that and what happened next is not entirely clear. Lenick testified that the audio recording component malfunctioned for a period that covered the accusation and the moment Furlough cracked -- an irregularity defense attorneys seized on yesterday.
The interview, which started late in the evening of Jan. 4, 2003, and lasted past midnight, began with a mix of flattery and small talk. The detectives, noting the date, remarked that "time flies" and chatted about when their Christmas trees would come down. Lenick told Furlough, "You seem like a pretty intelligent guy," and added, "You seem to have a little culture in you."
For an hour, Furlough gave what was then his version of events. He told detectives that Vassiliev, sitting on a couch, said he felt sick and then, almost instantly, dropped the videogame control. Furlough said he did not know why his friend was ill.
"I turned around to look at him, and it looked like he was struggling to breathe," Furlough said. It looked like Vassiliev "was trying to break free from something."
That was the account Furlough gave in the first hour, before the search at his house turned up packaging material for cyanide.
"It's not going to be all night, is it?" Furlough had asked when the interview began.
"I hope not," Lenick replied.
But before it was over, he was arrested. He has been jailed since.