Day 1, June 25
Wolfe B. Styke ’10 testified on the opening day of Commonwealth v. Anna Tang, the trial of the former Wellesley student who stabbed Styke in his Next House dormitory room in October 2007.
On the witness stand Styke was reserved and reticent, oftentimes pausing for tens of seconds before responding to or acknowledging questions. When he did speak, he did so quietly, almost inaudibly, and many times lawyers, the judge, and clerks asked him to repeat himself or speak louder. According to the Commonwealth, Styke was diagnosed as a child with “apraxia of speech” and “severe phrenological disorder” which are “exacerbated by stress.”
CNN cameras raise issue
Styke’s apparent nervousness could only have been compounded by the presence of TV cameras and crew from CNN’s Court TV division, “In Session.” The Tech was also present with a still camera. CNN does not plan to air the case before September, a producer said.
Styke was the Commonwealth’s lead witness, and the trial began with a motion by the Commonwealth to prohibit identification of Styke or “dissemination of [his] face.”
Cameras are permitted by Massachusetts court rules, within some limits. The foremost concern is whether they “create a substantial likelihood of harm.”
The Commonwealth argued against the cameras, saying that Styke might choose not to take the stand if they were present, and explained he would be testifying about intimate personal details. Styke’s testimony is at the core of the Commonwealth’s case.
Justice Bruce R. Henry denied the prosecution’s motion to restrict cameras, and the trial began.
This trial is a bench trial before Justice Henry.
Tang waived her right to a jury trial, the only time she spoke in open court on Friday. She spoke forthrightly and clearly, in strong contrast to Styke’s muted speech. But Tang was only asked a series of questions about her procedural understanding of the jury waiver; she has not yet appeared on the witness stand.
Assistant District Attorney Suzanne M. Kontz, in her opening statement, anticipated that the defense would argue Tang was insane, and responded with an analogy: Just as a person might be legally intoxicated and would still be legally responsible for their actions, so might Tang have mental health issues and still be criminally responsible.
Defense attorney Robert A. George’s opening argument described Tang’s history of mental illness, even prior to her arrival at Wellesley. George painted a picture of a young woman who was unwell, who knew she was unwell, and who was on medication — perhaps the wrong medication, he alleged.
George stressed that not only did the defense’s doctors view Tang as not criminally responsible, but so did the expert retained by the Commonwealth at the Court’s request, Dr. Alison Fife.
It was shortly after Fife’s evaluation of Tang, about two months ago, that the defense elected to forgo a jury trial in favor of a bench trial.
In a jury trial, the defense all twelve jurors to agree on Tang’s guilt. In a trial before a judge, only a single person, that judge, needs to be convinced. But the judge has stronger technical understanding of the law than most juries would.
The prosecution called Wolfe Styke to the stand at 11:30 a.m., and he testified through 4:00 p.m. with a lunch break of a little over an hour. Styke’s testimony was slow and careful, but he appeared detached. Many times, questions were repeated or rephrased George said in an e-mail that he was “taken aback by [Styke’s] delivery and demeanor.”
Styke described meeting Tang in early 2007 at a “coffeehouse meeting,” presumably a reference to an informal gathering of roof-and-tunnel hackers, though the testimony did not explore this.
Styke and Tang became friends as they worked together on classwork. Tang was cross-registered at MIT and they shared a class, Styke said. When Tang needed a place to stay for the summer of 2007, she moved in with Styke, he said.
Styke described his relationship with Tang as his first. He explained how it continued until it became sexual, after which he tried, with difficulty, to break off the relationship.
At the end of July 2007, under pressure from his parents, Styke forced Tang to move out. She moved into an MIT independent living group, Styke said. Based on his description, that ILG was Epsilon Theta, in Brookline.
Styke and Tang continued to see each other as friends throughout the summer, Styke said. Tang wanted to get back together with him, he said, but he did not want that, however he was still willing to talk and study with her.
Tang and Styke would talk for several hours a night, several times a week, he said.
Precursor to stabbing
Styke described an incident where Tang did not want to leave his room, refusing dozens of requests to do so over a span of hours.
At one point, Tang grabbed Styke by the shoulders and pushed at him, he said.
Styke said Tang eventually explained “she wanted to get to a knife to hurt herself to show me how much she cared—and that didn’t make any sense.”
Styke said he threatened to call 911, and that was sufficient for Tang to leave. Styke described Tang’s facial expression as shocked. He feared that she would treat him differently going forward because of that threat.
Styke even considered installing an audible alarm on his door, he said, so he could not be surprised in his sleep. But he did not do so.
The stabbing incident
Early on the evening of Oct. 22, 2007, Styke and a female friend were working on homework together in his room, he said. Tang came to see Styke, saw the friend, and “stormed off,” he said.
Styke said Tang’s face looked as it did when he had threatened to call 911, previously.
Styke said he “went to an event” that night around midnight, returned home around 2:30 or 3 a.m., and went to sleep around 3:30 a.m.
The next thing he remembered was waking up with the sun shining around his drawn blinds, and a shiny object heading towards his head, and a person “on top of me.”
That person was Anna Tang.
Styke blocked her knife strike, he said, and pinned her on his bed.
“Then I took the knife from her hands and tossed it aside,” he said, rolling her out of his bed as he got up.
Styke repeated the phrase “tossed it aside” several times as he related the incident.
After getting off the bed, Styke picked up his cell phone and called 911, he said. He observed a trail of blood behind him and began to understand the seriousness of his wounds: “I could see my arm muscles through my skin,” he said.
Styke wrapped towels around his bleeding wounds, and within a few minutes, police and paramedics arrived, he said.
With a total of seven wounds, he was transported to Mass. General Hospital, he said. At least six of the seven wounds took place while he was sleeping, he said.
Styke said that now, almost three years later, he still feels the physical effects. He has areas on his shin and upper arm that are numb, he said, and also has scars from all seven wounds, and might consider plastic surgery, he said.
George, the defense attorney, gave his reaction to the first day in an e-mail: “These types of proceedings demonstrate why a jury-waived setting is sometimes in the best interest of justice.”
“The first day went very slowly and would have tested a jury’s patience beyond any reasonable measure, so I am now certain that the decision to elect a non-jury trial was the best route for Ms. Tang’s case. I can only hope that the next two days of hearings go much more efficiently,” he said.
A version of this sidebar previously ran on the web on June 26.