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Dressage Coach Acquitted of Shooting Student by Reason of Insanity

An Olympic dressage coach accused of shooting his student was acquitted of attempted murder and found not guilty by reason of insanity in a case that stunned the elite dressage community.

Michael Barisone, 57, an Olympic rider, said that he was defending himself when he shot Lauren Kanarek twice in the chest in August 2019 at his Long Valley, N.J., training center and farm. Kanarek and her fiancé were living on the farm, but a feud escalated when Barisone and his fiancée 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, N.J., found Barisone not guilty by reason of insanity for one count of first-degree attempted murder and one count of second-degree possession of a weapon. The jury also found Barisone not guilty on the remaining two charges.

Kanarek’s lawyer, Bruce Nagel, harshly criticized the jury’s decision. Robert J. Carroll, the Morris County prosecutor, said in a statement that the outcome was disappointing but “must be respected.”

Over the two-week trial, Barisone’s lawyer, Edward J. Bilinkas, accused Kanarek of subjecting Barisone to mental abuse that caused him to shoot her. Bilinkas said that in the moments leading up to the shooting, Kanarek and her fiancé, Robert Goodwin, had beaten Barisone and had their dog attack him. Bilinkas said Kanarek had also made inflammatory social media posts about Barisone.

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

Kanarek survived the shooting, but was placed in a medically induced coma and had extensive surgery to repair her left lung. When she recovered, Kanarek was met with a deluge of social media comments from Barisone supporters who blamed her for the shooting and said that she deserved it.

Lauren Kanarek standing for a portrait in 2019.Credit…Erica Yoon for The New York Times

Support for Barisone’s case was buoyed by his standing within the sport. Barisone was a reserve rider on the United States dressage team in the 2008 Olympics and coached Olympians like Allison Brock, one of the riders for the United States team that won a bronze in the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games.

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

Kanarek had used Facebook to detail her long-running dispute with him. Five days before she was shot, Kanarek warned that her life was in danger.

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

In an appearance on Court TV after the ruling, Nagel, Kanarek’s attorney, called the decision a “miscarriage of justice” and a mistake by the jury.

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

When the jury foreman read the verdict, Barisone fell into his lawyer’s arms. Barisone was immediately transferred to a mental health facility for evaluation. 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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