After ever-escalating tension between dressage trainer Michael Barisone and his student, Lauren Kanarek, reached a boiling point, he came to see her and her boyfriend, Rob Goodwin, on Aug. 7, 2019, saying “he wanted to fix everything.” But he brought a gun.
Kanarek was intending to ask how he could improve the situation, but as soon as she approached him, the gun made an appearance.
“He pulled it out, he pointed it. Boom, boom, Just like that,” she recounted to Morris County Supervising Assistant Prosecutor Christopher Schellhorn. Kanarek appeared March 30 at the Morristown, New Jersey, courthouse during the third day of Barisone’s trial on two counts of attempted murder and two weapon possession counts.
With two holes in her chest, Kanarek found her phone was slippery with her blood, but she bashed Barisone on the side of the head with it as Goodwin lay on top of him, working to subdue the 2008 U.S. Olympic dressage team alternate.
Kanarek finally managed to make a 911 call, which was played for the jury. She wiped tears from her eyes while listening to the recording of her cries for help and the ensuing mayhem as Goodwin struggled with Barisone before police descended on Hawthorne Hill Farm in Long Valley, New Jersey.
Kanarek, 41, met Barisone at a clinic in 2018, when he suggested she should bring her horses to his stable and live on the property. The rider had ambitions to reach the higher ranks of dressage, and felt lessons from Barisone could be a key to that.
She characterized Barisone as “charming and nice,” yet noted he had another side.
“When he was angry, you didn’t want to approach him,” she advised.
But by 2019, she was taking more lessons with Barisone’s assistant, Justin Hardin, and also from Mary Haskins Gray, Barisone’s girlfriend, than she was from the top trainer. When defense attorney Ed Bilinkas cross-examined Kanarek, it became obvious that she intensely disliked Gray. The feeling seemed to be mutual.
Appearing in court the previous day, Gray said Kanarek had “the capability to be a great rider” but didn’t put in the time and often didn’t show up when she was scheduled to ride.
“She caused disruption in the stable,” said Gray, noting she told Barisone about her troubled relationship with Kanarek, and explained, “I wasn’t able to deal with it anymore.”
For her part, Kanarek testified, she “wasn’t very excited” about working with Gray, feeling she lacked experience and training.
Kanarek apparently was upset that Barisone divorced his wife, Vera Kessels, in 2018, after starting a relationship with Gray in 2015. Posting on Facebook, Kanarek used dramatic, bizarre analogies of Barisone as a king and alternately, Kessels and Gray as queens. The extent of her feelings surfaced in another post, where she stated, “It’s war.”
Kanarek, who spent four days in a coma and three weeks in the hospital after she was shot, has filed a personal injury lawsuit against Barisone, but that has been put on hold pending resolution of the criminal case. Bilinkas also contended that even before Kanarek was shot, she was planning on suing Barisone for $200,000.
When he suggested to Kanarek that she was bent on destroying Barisone and threatening everything he held dear, she replied, “at some point, yes.”
The attorney is working on an insanity and self-defence strategy for his client, contending that Kanarek and Goodwin were trying to drive him over the edge, recording his conversations, assailing his reputation on Facebook, accusing him of insurance fraud and creating disruption in the stable.
Testimony this week described the depth of his depression, noting he was living in fear and having trouble functioning. He suggested to Ruth Cox, the woman from whom he borrowed the gun used in the shooting, that she should sleep in front of her horse’s stall to discourage any mischief and make sure the gelding was safe.
Both Goodwin and Kanarek, as well as Barisone and Gray, complained about the other couple to the U.S. Equestrian Federation and SafeSport.
Kanarek said she did not, however, make a complaint with the state Division of Child Protection and Permanency, which sent a caseworker who questioned Gray, the mother of two young children.
But as that August 7, 2019 meeting went on, Barisone grabbed a pink and black 9mm gun, jumped into his truck and drove to the farmhouse on the property, where he confronted Goodwin and Kanarek who lived in the building.
Barisone wanted to go on trial, but it was delayed by COVID restrictions that stopped in-person trials for many months. He turned down a plea bargain that would have given him far less time in prison than the maximum of 60 years he could get if found guilty of all charges.
Dressed in a shirt and tie, rather than the yellow jumpsuit he has worn on previous appearances for court hearings, Barisone is shaggy-haired and unshaven as he sits at the defense table. His face often is contorted in pain as he listens to witnesses and the attorneys, sometimes bowing his head and wiping his eyes or holding his head in his hands. After more than two and a half years in the Morris County Correctional Facility, circumstances have dragged him down from being a successful athlete and coach with two farms and a thriving business to a shadow of the man he was.