Dressage trainer Michael Barisone was found to be not guilty by reason of insanity when he shot Lauren Kanarek, a tenant at his farm on Aug. 7, 2019, a Morris County, N.J., jury announced Thursday, as the high-profile 14-day attempted murder trial came to an end.
It was an emotional moment for Barisone, the 2008 U.S. Olympic dressage team alternate, who let out his tension with a moan of relief and bowed his head as the jury foreman read the first of the verdicts.
Barisone also was found not guilty by reason of insanity on a charge of possession of a weapon for an unlawful purpose in the case of Kanarek and not guilty on other charges–attempted murder, aggravated assault and possession of a weapon in regard to Kanarek’s boyfriend, Robert Goodwin. Although both had been in court as spectators on one day of the trial, they and Kanarek’s parents–who had been in attendance through much of the proceedings–were not on hand for the verdict.
Barisone’s lawyers, Edward Bilinkas and Chris Deininger, hugged their client and wiped away their tears as each verdict was announced. The defendant had been held in the Morris County Correctional Center for two years and nine months. The pandemic lockdown of in-person trials delayed his case. He will be sent for evaluation to the Ann Klein Forensic Center, a 200-bed psychiatric hospital in Trenton, N.J., that serves individuals within the legal system who are suffering from mental illness.
“They can’t hold him in custody. He has to be civilly committed,” Bilinkas said.
Barisone is set to be back in court May 17 in a closed hearing as Judge Stephen Taylor decides what’s next for him. His farm in New Jersey has been sold, but he still has a farm in Loxahatchee, Florida, where his horses live.
The trial has been followed avidly by thousands of people daily while the story unfolded of how Barisone became “increasingly desperate” as he tried to evict Kanarek and Goodwin from a house they shared with him at his Hawthorne Hill farm in Long Valley, N.J.
The jury of 10 men and two women was in its fourth day of deliberations when the decision came down. On Wednesday, they had requested to hear playback of testimony from Dr. Steven Simring, the psychiatrist who testified for the defense. He concluded Barisone not only suffered from delusional disorder but also was dealing with persistent depressive disorder.
The horseman was in a situation where he felt physically threatened by Kanarek and Goodwin, according to the psychiatrist, and he saw no way out as his life fell apart. The situation came to a head on Aug. 7, 2019, when a caseworker from the state Division of Child Protection and Permanency showed up to talk to Barisone’s girlfriend at the time, Mary Haskins Gray, about a tip concerning the welfare of her two children who often stayed on the property. It came out at the trial that Kanarek had twice looked up the hotline number for DCPP, with the inference that she had been involved in setting the agency’s wheels in motion.
“Whatever he did, he definitely was pushed over the edge by Lauren Kanarek. The jury understood that,” Bilinkas said.
“We’re ecstatic with the verdict,” he continued, while adding “I think he should have been completely acquitted. I’m just hoping for him to get his life back on track and get back to riding and get back to where he was.”
Morris County Prosecutor Robert Carroll did not hold a press conference, but reacted to the verdict by stating, “While disappointed with the outcome, in keeping with our commitment to the integrity of the criminal justice system, the verdict must be respected. I acknowledge the case has elicited strong opinions when it comes to how the public views the defendant and victims in this matter, and I ask that the public respect the jury members and their decision.”
The only account of the incident where Kanarek was shot twice came from her and from Goodwin, since Barisone said he doesn’t remember the shooting. The defendant, who appeared in court in an unkept state and often was in tears, did not testify.
Barisone was offered a plea bargain before the trial began to avoid the jeopardy of facing a maximum of 60 years combined sentences on all the charges, but he was set on going ahead with the trial. Bilinkas said the plea bargain was never considered
Lara Osborne, whose daughter, Jordan, was a working student for Barisone, explained, “Michael didn’t take the plea deal because he wants his story to come out. He wants the truth to be told and wants people to know what Lauren and Robert and Jonathan (Kanarek’s father) did to him.”
Osborne, who is romantically involved with Barisone added, “He’s happy that it’s coming out; there’s a lot more that needs to come out.” She wouldn’t elaborate except to mention that there are 19,000 pages of Kanarek’s Facebook posts that taunted Barisone with threats and reports on his private conversations.
The entire saga couldn’t be aired during the trial because of the rules of evidence–it’s not like the cases you see on TV. Often when the defense ventured in a direction that might have shed more light on the conflict, the prosecution led by Morris County Supervising Assistant Prosecutor Christopher Schellhorn with Assistant Prosecutor Alexander Bennett would raise an objection or the judge would intervene. While there were so many follow-up questions that would have seemed apropos during cross-examination, they couldn’t be asked.
The CBS show, “48 Hours” is doing a program on the case this fall, so you can expect more details. There are so many things that went unanswered. One is how many bullets were in the gun when it was fired. Kanarek was shot twice and Goodwin claimed he also was the target of a shot, but no third bullet casing was ever found. And why wasn’t Barisone tested for gunshot residue when one of the policemen on the scene said that had been requested? How could the authorities have failed to collect evidence from a video camera located in a position where it might have caught the incident?
Kanarek and Goodwin’s accounts of the play-by-play of the incident often conflicted and were hard to follow, but there was an intimation from the defense that Barisone may have been attacked before the gun was fired.
During the course of the trial, everything about Barisone was laid bare. His family history of abuse and depression, along with financial problems, all became public.
The confident man who managed a complex enterprise, interacted with the top people in the equestrian world, spent time on his hobby of restoring cars and loved teaching became a shadow of himself under the duress of jail and after what his defense team described as a campaign of harassment against him by Kanarek.