There is one simple question that the jury in the Michael Barisone attempted murder trial will have to decide this week: Did the dressage trainer set out to commit murder when his student, Lauren Kanarek, was shot twice, or was he so delusional he didn’t remember what happened?

The defense and prosecution made their closing statements Monday in Morristown, N.J., offering very different views of the case for the jury of 10 men and two women to consider as they retired to their deliberations later in the day.

Barisone is charged with two counts of attempted murder; the second involved Kanarek’s boyfriend, Rob Goodwin, although he was not hit and no casing from a third bullet was found. The other two original charges Barisone faces involve possession of a weapon for unlawful purposes.

Barisone was desperate to evict Kanarek and Goodwin from his stable in Long Valley, N.J. They lived in a farmhouse he had shared with his former girlfriend, Mary Haskins Gray, where her children sometimes visited. Things spiraled downward at Hawthorne Hill farm, as Kanarek’s threatening Facebook posts, surreptitious recording of conversations and reports that brought police and town officials to the property fanned the flames of discord. Both couples went to the U.S. Equestrian Federation and SafeSport with their grievances.

Barisone had suffered from harassment to the point that he stopped riding and teaching, spending sleepless nights patrolling his property because he feared what Kanarek and Goodwin might do.

The day a caseworker arrived from the state Division of Child Protection and Permanency to investigate the situation involving Gray’s children, however, was the final straw for Barisone. It was never determined who actually called DCPP–a psychologist assumed it was SafeSport–but the defense noted Kanarek had twice sought the division’s hotline reporting number on her phone.

The shooting took place when Barisone grabbed a 9 mm Ruger pistol he kept in his office safe after shooing out Gray and the caseworker, then drove to the farmhouse, where a confrontation took place. On a previous occasion when he went to the farmhouse to talk to Kanarek, she had pushed him back as he tried to leave and blocked him from getting into his car.

On Aug. 7, 2019, however, testimony indicated it was only a few seconds before Kanarek was left bleeding as Goodwin grappled with Barisone, holding him down until the police came.

“The only evidence as to how the shooting occurred came from Kanarek and Goodwin,” lead defense attorney Ed Bilinkas said in a fiery summation. The two “have a motive to lie, changed their stories, left important things out…and have now walked into this courtroom, put their hands on this Bible looked you all in the eye and lied to you.”

He suggested that if someone lied on the witness stand about a significant fact, “you can disregard their entire testimony.”

Kanarek was back in the courtroom for the first time since she testified last month. She sat between her mother, Kirby, and her father, Jonathan, who Bilinkas had mentioned as being part of a plot to destroy Barisone. Kanarek’s mother had her arm around her daughter during the proceedings, as jurors and others attending saw a photo of Kanarek’s chest showing the holes left by the bullets. Goodwin also was present, entering the courtroom holding his girlfriend’s hand.

Bilinkas contended that “lack of evidence calls into question the entire sequence of events” on the day of the shooting, and brought up, as he had previously, the question of why a video camera in a location that could have recorded what happened was turned off.

“Reasonable doubt begins when the camera is shut off,” the lawyer said.

Judge Stephen Taylor had rejected self-defence as an option, which left Barisone’s team with an insanity defence for their client, the 2008 alternate for the U.S. Olympic dressage team, who did not testify. They were relying on testimony of expert witnesses, a psychiatrist and a psychologist they presented.

The psychiatrist had diagnosed Barisone with delusional disorder, noting he also was dealing with persistent depressive disorder. Barisone, who had been seeing a therapist on and off for 20 years, had experienced traumatic events in his life as a child. Both doctors said that type of history is “important and may make someone more susceptible to issues later on in life,” according to Bilinkas.

In his client’s case, the lawyer said, “Michael Barisone’s mother physically abused him,” adding that as a boy “he was sexually molested over and over again.”

Hitting on the key points for an insanity decision, Bilinkas concluded, “The defense has established clearly that Michael Barisone was insane at the time of the incident. He was suffering from a mental defect, a delusional disorder, and did not know the nature and quality of his actions, and did not know right from wrong.”

Morris County Supervising Assistant Prosecutor Christopher Schellhorn disputed the conclusion of the defense’s expert witnesses, relying instead on the testimony of the psychologist working for the state.

In dealing with an insanity defense, he explained to the jury, “it’s important to focus in, number one, on the existence of a mental defect, because the judge is going to tell you the defendant has to be laboring under a defect of reason from disease of the mind.

“All the doctors agree that the defendant has depression, he has anxiety, he perhaps has personality disorder, but also agreed that none of those mental disorders would affect a person’s ability…to appreciate that what they were doing is wrong.”

During Schellhorn’s presentation, Barisone often sat with his head bowed, his face contorted in sorrow. The disheveled defendant with the long stringy hair and incipient beard, a dull look in his eyes, was a far cry from the dynamic horseman remembered by such character witnesses as eventing Olympians Phillip Dutton and Boyd Martin, as well as 2016 Games dressage team bronze medalist Alison Brock, whom Barisone had coached in Rio.
The dispute with his tenants took an enormous toll on Barisone, but Schellhorn noted that the animosity flowed both ways between Barisone and Kanarek. The prosecutor said Kanarek felt Barisone was “out to destroy her ability to compete in this sport.”

He said Barisone had texted to Gray about Kanarek, “I will get her a lifetime ban.” Said the prosecutor, “He is out to destroy her ability to compete in this sport.”

“Who would do this? Who would do this?” asked the prosecutor as he raised his voice to pose the question.

“Apparently it wasn’t just Lauren Kanarek. The defendant was doing the same things to her.”

Schellhorn contends that the Aug. 7 confrontation “wasn’t just a random shooting.”

He noted, “A person’s use of a deadly weapon allows you to infer that their purpose was to cause death.”

Although Barisone had his own revolver, which would require time to load after each shot, he instead took the 9mm Ruger, an automatic that had belonged to a woman who had horses at his stable. He also brought along extra ammunition when he drove to the farmhouse.

“This is two groups of people that are not getting along and do not like each other,” said Schellhorn.

“That’s not a delusion. When the defendant went to confront Lauren and Rob that day, he was acting impulsively and he was acting emotionally. But he was acting purposefully, and that’s the standard for attempted murder.”

The jury can decide Barisone’s fate one of three ways; not guilty by reason of insanity, not guilty and guilty. A charge of aggravated assault, which carries a sentence of five to 10 years, was added to the charges that could be considered by the jury.

The panel continues deliberations on Tuesday.