The trial of Anna L. Tang — the Wellesley College student who stabbed MIT student Wolfe B. Styke ’10 in October 2007 — began last month, and came to an abrupt halt on its third day last week Wednesday.
Informing the court that the Commonwealth-appointed psychiatrist had reversed her opinion on Tang’s criminal responsibility on the “eve before the last day” of the trial, defense attorney Robert A. George moved to suspend the trial to allow time to prepare, and Judge Bruce R. Henry allowed it.
A status conference is set for August 17, and the trial is likely to be rescheduled for sometime after that date in September.
The Commonwealth’s forensic psychiatrist in the case, Dr. Alison Fife, had submitted a report to the Court in May indicating that she believed Tang was not criminally responsible for the stabbing: that Tang did not appreciate the wrongfulness of her behavior and lacked the ability to conform her behavior to the requirements of the law.
On the basis of the Fife report, Tang waived her right to a jury trial and proceeded with a bench trial before the judge.
The defense alleged that victim’s mother, Glen Styke, had “extensive contact” with Fife and that led to Fife “suddenly and belatedly” changing her opinion. George’s motion calls this part of “a series of untoward and disturbing events.” Styke denies meeting with Fife, and a spokeswoman for the Middlesex District Attorney’s office, Jessica Venezia Pastore, denies contact took place.
See the sidebar for details of day one of the trial, on Friday June 25, previously published on our website.
Day 2, Monday
On Monday morning, the defense cross-examined Wolfe Styke. That covered similar ground to Friday’s testimony, though focused more on Styke’s perceptions of Tang.
Styke testified that he “eventually” understood that Tang was mentally ill, and that he knew she was taking Celexa, a prescription antipsychotic medication.
He also testified that he forced Tang to move out of his room “because of parental pressure.”
Security guard testifies
Styke was followed on the stand by Russell J. Novello, the night watch patrolman at Next House on the night of the stabbing.
Novello, who is no longer employed by MIT, testified that he gave Tang the key to Styke’s room, Room 246, between 5:00 and 5:30 a.m. on Oct. 23, and he believed at the time that she was Styke’s girlfriend.
Novello said “she was very nice,” not crying or upset.
Tang failed to return the key, so Novello went up to Room 246 to retrieve the key. Novello knocked on the door, Tang returned the key, apologized, and Novello went back downstairs to the front desk, he said.
At about 6:30 a.m., Novello said, a male, probably a student, came down to the front desk and informed Novello that someone had been stabbed, and led Novello up to Room 246, where he saw Styke bleeding.
Novello called the Campus Police, and then led them up to the room, he said.
The defense did not cross-examine Novello.
The bulk of Monday’s testimony was that of the defense’s expert psychiatrist, Dr. Eric L. Brown.
Brown, who is paid by the defense on an hourly basis, has been evaluating Tang since December 2007, two months after the incident.
Brown said he examined Tang’s medical records, including those from Wellesley’s Stone Center for Counseling, Tang’s extensive record of emails with Styke and others, and records of Skype conversations with Styke.
Brown monitored Tang’s status on a weekly basis, he said, and coordinated Tang’s treating psychopharmocologist Dr. Michael Moffson, and her psychologist Dr. Liza Brooks.
Brown said he conducted a longitudinal evaluation of Tang over the course of two and a half years, and he spent a total of 26 hours with Anna Tang.
Tang had a history of medical illness dating back to adolescence, Brown said. He described her records as showing depressive behavior and manic behavior. He described Tang seeking counseling at Wellesley in early fall of 2005.
According to Brown, Tang’s depression increased in February of 2006, and that she withdrew from Wellesley for a term.
Brown said that Tang felt suicidal during her teenage years, that she scratched herself, and that she wanted to kill herself.
Brown described an incident in high school where Tang was made “incredibly distraught” by an argument with her sister. “Her relationships were so tenuous — but also so impoverished — … that the prospect of her sister not talking to her was just like psychological annihilation,” he said.
“That made her extremely depressed,” Brown said.
Brown also testified that Wellesley College records said Tang “was sexually abused by her father — that was an incident that left her distraught, but very guilty. At the same time it also worsened her feeling — she had low self esteem to begin with — being sexually violated by her father made her feel even more worthless.”
Brown said that it was his medical opinion that Tang “most definitely had a mental illness” from 2006–2007, and that it was a bipolar disorder.
Brown testified that, “My opinion is that she lacked the substantial capacity to appreciate the wrongfulness of her behavior; she lacked the substantial capacity to control her behavior to conform with the requirements of the law.”
Brown testified that Dr. Fife, the Commonwealth’s expert, opined that Tang was unable to control her behavior because of her mental illness, and that Tang could not appreciate right from wrong.
Brown was next cross-examined by the prosecution. Under cross-examination, his testimony appeared less compelling.
The prosecution established that Brown had not interviewed Wolfe Styke, Dr. Lisa Desai (who Tang saw at Wellesley), or “anyone who came into contact with Ms. Tang that night.” He also did not examine Cambridge City Hospital report, nor her records from the jail Tang was held at in Framingham prior to her release under house arrest.
The Commonwealth pursued Brown about various factual details of his testimony. For instance, Brown had testified earlier that Tang “thought she had superhuman powers.”
But then ADA Kontz referred to the Wellesley College records that state Tang “fantasized that she wanted to have those powers … not that she actually had those powers?”
The prosecution attempted to convince Judge Henry that most of Brown’s knowledge of Tang were based on things Tang reported to Brown or to other clinicians.
When asked if Brown “would have to re-assess his opinion” if he found out that Tang had lied to him. Brown indicated that he would have to re-assess his opinion in that case.
The prosecution also pointed to inconsistencies in Dr. Desai’s report. Desai was a clinician at Wellesley College who saw Tang, and whose report was reviewed by Brown. Brown did not appear to have been aware of those inconsistencies, and that diminished his credibility.
Day 3, Wednesday
Tuesday was a scheduled day off for the trial.
On Wednesday morning, the trial began with the defense attorney George announcing that he had been informed by ADA Kontz on Tuesday afternoon that Dr. Fife, the Commonwealth’s expert, “now wishes to change her opinion as to criminal responsibility.”
Kontz told the judge that “Dr. Fife is changing her opinion as to one prong of the elements that the court would need to find criminal responsibility.”
Judge Henry agreed to a postponement of the trial. It seemed likely that the revised trial might be a jury trial, because “you wish to keep your options open,” the judge said to the defense.
The defense also filed a motion to modify Tang’s bail conditions. Tang’s father, Jianguo “Jay” Tang, is dying of terminal liver cancer in China, and is not expect to last into August. Attorney George asked that Tang be permitted to visit her father on his deathbed, as well as to lower her $10,000 bail, and relax some of the conditions of her GPS monitoring.
Later that day, the court denied the request to permit Tang to leave the country, writing:
DENIED, after consideration of the issues raised by counsel and after review of the defendant’s compliance with the conditions placed upon her in previous orders. While there have been no issues at all with respect to her compliance to date, I have a concern about Ms. Tang’s return to face the trial of this matter after travel to China, a country with which the United States does not have an extradition treaty. As a father my heart goes out to Ms. Tang and her dying father. As a judge, however, I cannot rule with just my heart. Taking into account all of the various factors at issue, I must deny the defendant’s request to travel to China.”
The court did permit a reduction of Tang’s bail to $5,000 “to cover the ongoing costs of her defense” and indicated it was receptive to loosening restrictions on Tang’s ability to leave her home, but the defense would need to be specific about the desired loosening, and to submit proposals to the Court’s Probation Department for input before the judge would consider them.
On Thursday July 1, the defense filed another motion to modify bail conditions, and the court denied the motion temporarily until the status hearing in August.
The Commonwealth filed a motion in opposition, as well.
The next court date is August 17, in Woburn, Mass. At that time, we expect another trial date will be set, and the Court will hear an oral argument about Tang’s bail conditions, decide whether to relax them, and if so to what degree.