Anna L. Tang, the troubled former Wellesley student, is finally free to resume her life and has been discharged from court custody. Under house arrest since early 2008, Tang will not be committed to a mental institution, and there are no longer any court-ordered restrictions upon her. Tang had been found not guilty by reason of mental incapacity on Dec. 10, 2010, but the Commonwealth petitioned to have her committed to a locked mental health care facility. That petition was dismissed yesterday afternoon by Judge Bruce R. Henry in Middlesex Superior Court.
Tang came to the attention of most MIT students in October 2007 when she stabbed her ex-boyfriend, Wolfe B. Styke G, then a freshman, in his Next House dormitory room. Styke sustained eight wounds that were nearly fatal. Tang had seen Styke studying with another woman earlier that evening, and approached two different security guards in an attempt to gain access to Styke’s room.
Russell J. Novello, then a night watch security guard, lent Tang a key to Styke’s room, thinking Tang and Styke were still dating. When Tang failed to return the key in fifteen minutes, Novello went to the room and retrieved the key from her. Styke was asleep. At the trial, Novello said Tang was “very nice.” It was hours later when Tang stabbed Styke, just before dawn.
Styke is now suing both MIT and Novello for negligence. MIT declined to comment on the suit, and Novello’s lawyer did not respond to inquiries.
MIT’s response to the suit is due in one week.
Tang has bipolar disorder, which she sought help for when she first arrived at Wellesley in 2005. At that time, she was diagnosed with depression and was prescribed an antidepressant. However, as Tang’s psychopharmacologist Michael J. Mufson testified during the trial, bipolar disorder cannot be treated with antidepressants. Doing so creates oscillatory behavior — “It made her lows lower and her highs get higher,” Mufson said. That combination of misdiagnosis and mistreatment led to her attack on Styke. Judge Henry found in December that Tang lacked the substantial capacity to conform her actions to the requirements of the law and that she lacked the capacity to appreciate the wrongfulness of her actions.
The judge’s dismissal of the petition to commit came after one day of testimony two Fridays ago. The prosecutor, Assistant District Attorney Suzanna M. Kontz, called Dr. Elizabeth Wollheim to the stand. Wollheim was commissioned to evaluate whether Tang should be committed after the December verdict.
Wollheim said in both her testimony and in her written report that she did not believe Tang should be committed — she did not think Tang was a danger to herself or others.
In his closing statement yesterday, defense attorney Robert A. George highlighted holes in the Commonwealth’s argument: that there was no evidence or expert testimony recommending commitment.
Kontz argued in her closing statement that Tang needed to stay in treatment and that she was a model probationer with an extensive treatment plan was only because she wanted to obtain a favorable judgement from the court.
Judge Henry summarized his thinking that led to the dismissal: “I understand the Commonwealth’s argument and their request that I look at all of this through the lens of what has happened here and what the rationale may be for Ms. Tang’s cooperation and her treatment,” he said.
“The statute says I shall not order commitment unless the person is mentally ill … and that discharge would create a likelihood of serious harm or that … failure to retain her in the strict custody would create a likelihood of serious harm. And I think in those respects the Commonwealth has not met its burden.”
Tang and Styke did not respond to requests to comment for this article.