Dressage Coach Acquitted of Shooting Student by Reason of Insanity

An Olympic dressage coach accused of shooting his student has been acquitted of attempted murder and found not guilty due to insanity in a case that shocked the elite dressage community.

Michael Barisone, 57, an Olympic cyclist, said he was defending himself when he shot Lauren Kanarek twice in the chest in August 2019 at his Long Valley, New Jersey farm and training center. Kanarek and her fiancé lived on the farm, but a fight escalated when Barisone and her fiancé moved into a barn on the property. Barisone claimed that Kanarek mentally abused him.

Barisone faced two counts of attempted murder and two counts of possession of a weapon for an unlawful purpose. A jury in Morris County, NJ, found Barisone not guilty by reason of insanity on one count of attempted murder in the first degree and one count of possession of a weapon in the second degree. The jury also found Barisone not guilty on the remaining two counts.

Kanarek’s attorney, Bruce Nagel, sharply criticized the jury’s decision. Morris County Prosecutor Robert J. Carroll said in a statement the result was disappointing but “must be respected.”

During the two-week trial, Barisone’s attorney, Edward J. Bilinkas, accused Kanarek of subjecting Barisone to mental abuse that caused him to shoot him. Bilinkas said that in the moments before the shooting, Kanarek and his fiancé, Robert Goodwin, had beaten Barisone and his dog had attacked him. Bilinkas said Kanarek had also made inflammatory social media posts about Barisone.

In the days leading up to the shooting, Barisone had called 911 several times, claiming that Kanarek and her fiancé were squatters and harassing him. In a call, Barisone described the conflict as “a war. And it will be dealt with.”

Kanarek survived the shooting but was placed in a medically induced coma and underwent extensive surgery to repair her left lung. As she recovered, Kanarek was met with a flood of comments on social media from Barisone’s supporters who blamed her for the shooting and said she deserved it.

Support for Barisone’s case was fueled by his position within the sport. Barisone was a reserve rider on the United States dressage team at the 2008 Olympics and trained Olympians such as Allison Brock, one of the United States team riders who won a bronze at the 2016 Rio Games. .

Kanarek was a promising newcomer to dressage and had moved with her horses to train at the Barisone farm in 2018. As part of the arrangement, she and her fiancé lived in an apartment on a farm. But when a flood forced Barisone and her fiancée to move into a barn on the property, Barisone tried to evict Kanarek and Goodwin from the apartment so they could live there, Kanarek told The New York Times in 2019.

Kanarek had taken to Facebook to detail her longstanding feud with him. Five days before he was shot, Kanarek warned that his life was in danger.

“We are ecstatic with the verdict,” Bilinkas, Barisone’s attorney, said Friday. “For two and a half years, Michael Barisone has been waiting to tell his story and for people to know what happened to him, what these people did to him. For the first time, he is in a position where he will be able to get his life back.”

In an appearance on Court TV after the ruling, Nagel, Kanarek’s attorney, called the decision a “judicial error” and a jury error.

“If he was temporarily insane, why did he sit in that courtroom every day looking disheveled and looking like he was insane?” Nagel said. “He did it because he put on a show, and the jury believed him, hook, line and sinker. That’s not temporary insanity. That is fraud, it is a ploy, it was a show and he got away with it.”

When the foreman of the jury read the verdict, Barisone fell into the arms of his lawyer. Barisone was immediately transferred to a mental health facility for evaluation of him. An insanity disposition hearing is scheduled for May 17, when Judge Stephen Taylor will determine whether Barisone needs further treatment or can be released.

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