• 'A troubled existence': The Winchester man accused of murdering a total stranger

    By: Dalton Main

    Updated:

    WOBURN, Mass. - Jeffery Yao walked into a Woburn courtroom Monday morning and sat silently as disturbing tale was told by prosecutors. 

    Yao gazed at the floor, the ceiling and into space as the narrative of Saturday’s events was read aloud. 

    Deane Stryker was sitting at a table in a reading room at the Winchester Public Library Saturday. Stryker, a medical student, graduated from Northeastern University before she started at the University of New England’s College of Osteopathic Medicine.

    She was studying when Yao came up behind her with a ten-inch hunting knife and began stabbing her in the head and back, the police report states. 

    As Yao attacked her, the report continues, she managed to get up and run to the front lobby, with Yao chasing close behind. 

    Several people even tried to step in and stop him, including a 77-year-old man who was then stabbed in the arm. 

    Stryker was rushed to the hospital, but later died from her injuries. 

    What remains are questions about why Yao exploded in rage at someone he didn’t even know. 

    “Jeffery Yao is a troubled young man who has a long history of serious mental illness and multiple hospitalizations for the mental illness,” explained his attorney, J.W. Carney, Jr. “He's in shock, very flat affect, he’s just trying to make sense of where he is and why he is there.”

    Monday morning, two shocked families were trying to understand why he was there. 

    “There is no indication that he knew the woman, just a completely random attack,” Carney admitted. “Certainly this case is very, very related to his extreme mental illness.”

    Carney was hired by Yao’s family to represent him and hasn’t worked with his client in the past. But, according to the attorney, his past is a haunting indication of why this happened. 

    “This whole tragedy is every parent’s nightmare, it’s a tragedy for the victim’s family. My client’s parents feel devastated for the death of that woman,” Carney said. “And my client’s family is devastated that after years of dealing with his mental illness, he commits this act. It’s every parent’s nightmare.”

    He doesn’t seem to deny Yao’s responsibility for Stryker’s death, but says the best outcome for his client would be a not guilty verdict to his mental illness and a placement at a maximum-security hospital – possibly for the rest of his life. 

    Yao’s only open case file is from September of 2017, in which police say he was found trying to break into his neighbor’s house. In the report from that incident, police say Yao has “displayed erratic behavior and mental instability.”

    According to Carney, the charges in that case were probably headed for dismissal. 

    “It’s been a very troubled existence,” Carney said about Yao’s life. “His mental illness has often been quite apparent and uh he’s had a lot of contact with the Winchester police over the years to their credit, they recognized he has a severe mental illness and dealt with him in that manner, by often taking him to a hospital instead of a police station.”

    The attorney said Yao has been known to Winchester Police for some time and credited their ability to keeping a calm, civil relationship with him.

    But the questions came one after another Monday morning outside a Woburn courtroom, how could this happen? Should someone have seen it coming?

    “This is the type of episode or illness that really can’t be predicted; it’s totally unexpected to everyone, most especially his parents,” Carney said.

    He added he will be assembling a team of doctors to examine Yao and to present opinions at trial. 

    MORE: Man accused of stabbing woman to death inside library held without bail

    A small memorial in honor of Deane Stryker was set up in front of the library on Monday evening. Flowers were placed near the front door of the building, a way for the community to mourn together.

    The Winchester Public Library is set to re-open on Tuesday afternoon.

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