WINCHESTER (CBS) — The attorney for the man charged in a brutal murder at the Winchester Public Library says his client is mentally ill and that the attack was random.
Jeffrey Yao, 23, pleaded not guilty to charges of murder and armed assault with intent to murder at his arraignment Monday morning in Woburn District Court. He was ordered held without bail.
Prosecutor Kate Cimini said Yao was not provoked when he approached 22-year-old Deane Stryker from behind Saturday as she studied inside the library and stabbed her 20 times with a 10-inch hunting knife.
Several people tried to stop Yao, including 77-year-old Lester Taber. “I suffered a wound on my arm approximately five inches long and at the deepest a half inch,” Taber told WBZ-TV.
Cimini said Yao paused for a moment, cut the man across his upper arm and then returned to attacking Stryker, who tried to escape.
She was slashed and stabbed in her head and upper torso. She died at Winchester Hospital.
Stryker was a first year student at the University of New England’s College of Osteopathic Medicine and hoped to eventually become a doctor. Her classmates are shocked. “She was one of the most genuine, happy, and open people that I’ve ever met,” said medical student Ben Thomas. “She was like a bright shining ball of energy that lit up those around her.”
There’s no word yet on a motive for the attack. Both Stryker and Yao were graduates of Winchester High School.
Yao’s attorney, J.W. Carney, told reporters outside court that Yao did not know Stryker and said his client is a very troubled man with a history of mental illness.
“My client’s parents feel devastated about the death of that young woman who was totally blameless and my client’s family is devastated that after years of dealing with his mental illness he commits this act. It’s every parents nightmare for both sets of parents,” Carney said, adding that Yao should be in a psychiatric hospital for the rest of his life.
Neighbors say they have feared Yao for years. “I’ve said it before, and I’m going to say it again. He was a ticking time bomb, something was going to set him off and this poor girl,” said Nicole Luongo, the suspect’s neighbor.
Carney said his client has led a “very troubled existence” and was well known to Winchester Police, however, “this behavior can’t be predicted,” he said.
“We will employ every support system we can in order to return WHS to a sense of stability and to a calm and safe environment for learning and growing,” Winchester High School Principal Dennis Mahoney said in a letter to families Monday. “I firmly believe that although our community is shaken, the best way to get through these hard times is to do so together and stay intact as a community.
Yao is due back in court for a probable cause hearing on April 11.