Anna Tang acquitted in stabbing

Wellesley student found not responsible due to bipolar disorder

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Anna L. Tang was found not guilty by reason of insanity by Middlesex Superior Court judge Bruce R. Henry. The judge ordered her to undergo a psychiatric evaluation.
John A. Hawkinson—The Tech

Anna L. Tang was deemed not criminally responsible for the attempted murder of Wolfe B. Styke.

Judge Bruce R. Henry ruled Wednesday that the prosecution had failed to prove that Tang had a substantial capacity to conform her conduct to the requirements of the law.

Tang, who has struggled with mental illness since childhood, stabbed Wolfe B. Styke ’11 in the early morning hours of October 23, 2007 in Styke’s Next House dormitory room. Tang was a Wellesley College junior at the time.

The verdict came on the 7th day of trial — a long and slow trial with a “mountain of evidence — 48–49 exhibits,” noted defense attorney Robert A. George.

There was never any question of whether Tang stabbed Styke. The question was whether her mental illness — bipolar disorder with psychotic features — prevented her from stopping herself.

“I’m glad,” said Tang’s mother after the trial. “I’m happy that it is over.”

But it is not over for Tang.

After the verdict, the judge had to decide what happens to Tang in the short term. Judge Henry decided he should use his discretion under the law to require Tang undergo a mental evaluation. That evaluation will take 20–50 days, and will take place at the Solomon Carter Fuller Mental Health Center in Boston.

“This verdict does not change the fact that this defendant carried out an extremely vicious and cruel act of violence that resulted in serious injuries to an unarmed college student who was asleep at the time of the attack,” Middlesex District Attorney Gerry T. Leone said in a statement.

“We are thankful to the court for their thoughtful deliberation and consideration in this matter, and the resulting commitment of the defendant to a hospital for evaluation. We remain hopeful that at the upcoming commitment hearing, Ms. Tang will receive the mental health treatment necessary to minimize the likelihood of her committing such a violent offense again, including a safety plan and compulsion to engage in whatever treatment and medications that might be deemed warranted,” Leone said.

The prosecution’s case was hurt the most by the testimony and written reports of Dr. Alison Fife, who evaluated Tang on behalf of the court. Fife changed her opinion midway through the trial — in June — which necessitated halting the trial for five months as the defense regrouped.

“Dr. Fife’s two different opinions and her testimony regarding them leave me with more questions than they resolve,” Judge Henry said as he gave his verdict from the bench.

Henry said that he very much relied on the testimony of Wolfe Styke, the victim, as well as the testimony of Dr. Michael J. Mufson, Tang’s treating psychopharmocologist.

Tang is definitely in better shape now than she was in October of 2007. At the time she was on Celexa, being treated for depression — but her doctors now believe that she was bipolar. Treating bipolar illness with drugs intended for depression can be very problematic.

“It makes the lows lower and the highs higher,” Mufson said.

Under Mufson’s care, Tang has instead been on Seroquel, an antipsychotic drug intended for bipolar illness. In and around the courtroom, she appears to be normal. The testimony of her doctors is that Seroquel has solved her problems.

George noted in his closing argument that Seroquel is the same drug used by rap musician Eminem, who credits it with saving his life.

There is currently no date for Tang’s commitment hearing — it will take place sometime after her mental health evaluation is complete, probably in January.

The defense had tried to convince the judge to let Tang remain under her current house arrest conditions while her mother was in the country visiting, through December 11, but the court instead ordered that Tang undergo evaluation immediately.

The prosecution noted that the availability of a bed at the Fuller Center was particularly fortuitous and rare, and there was no guarantee that bed would be available at a later date, and instead Tang might have to go to a much less convenient facility for evaluation, such as one in Bridgewater, Mass. or Taunton, Mass.

During the penultimate day of trial, the prosecution’s witnesses including two Cambridge Police Officers, who described Styke’s wounds in detail.

The officers also showed off the “powerful mini crossbow” that Tang had ordered through Amazon prior to the stabbing. The crossbow did not arrive before Tang left Wellesley on the night of October 22. She stabbed Styke in the early morning hours of October 23.

With the exception of Dr. Fife, the testimony of all witnesses in the trial seemed to be well-accepted. While the prosecution successfully challenged some of the testimony of Eric L. Brown, the psychologist who supervised Tang’s treatment, there was little to dispute in the testimony of other witnesses.