Former Olympian Michael Barisone was found not guilty on all charges against him on Thursday, including two for attempted murder — the most serious following a shooting on his upscale Long Valley dressage farm that left a tenant clinging to life.
A 12-member jury in Morris County deliberated for roughly 18 hours following Monday’s closing arguments to not convict Barisone, 58, of shooting trainee Lauren Kanarek on Aug. 7, 2019 and twice in the chest. He did not shoot at her fiancé, Robert Goodwin, the jury found.
Barisone, whose illustrious career as a rider and coach was touted by elite athletes during the 11-day trial, broke down shaking and in tears as the jury’s foreman read the not guilty counts against him: two charges of first-degree attempted murder and two charges of possession of a weapon for an unlawful purpose.
The jury found Barisone not guilty by reason of insanity on the attempted murder of Kanarek and not guilty for the attempted murder of Goodwin. He was acquitted on the weapons charges.
Barisone will be civilly committed to the Ann Klein Forensic Center in Trenton for 30 days for evaluation and will return to court on May 17. The hearing will be closed to the public, Judge Steven Taylor said. Those found not guilty by reason of insanity can be held in psychiatric hospitals for an amount of time determined by doctors or be released back into the community, should it be safe to do so.
Barisone faced up to 60 years in prison should the judge choose to run each count concurrently. Attempted murder in New Jersey is punishable by up to 20 years in prison and each weapons offense up to 10 years.
The jury declined to convict Barisone of a lesser charge of aggravated assault, which the judge said could be considered.
Morris County Prosecutor Robert Carroll said in a statement that while disappointed with the outcome, 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,” Carroll said.
Bilinkas did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The jury agreed with arguments that Barisone was battling a delusional disorder that severely altered his thinking, leaving him detached from reality, paranoid and fearful for his life amid ongoing tensions with Kanarek and Goodwin. Doctors called by defense attorney Edward Bilinkas opined that Barisone was not criminally culpable for the shooting because he was legally insane.
Barisone first met Kanarek in 2018 and invited to train her in dressage and have her stay at his New Jersey farm, but their coach-and-client relationship turned toxic in 2019, both parties agreed. Barisone made several attempts to get Kanarek and Goodwin leave, including having an attorney draft an eviction notice, but was unsuccessful. Barisone’s attorneys argued his mental disorder left him unable to comprehend that the afternoon of the shooting, he went to his safe in his office in his clubhouse, retrieved a gun, loaded it and drove down to the house Kanarek and Goodwin were staying before he unloaded two rounds at Kanarek and one at Goodwin as they stood outside.
Kanarek underwent life-saving surgery and spent about three weeks in intensive care and four days in a coma. She is back to riding horses, but not at the same level she once was, she said.
The trial began on March 28 with Christopher Schellhorn, a supervising assistant prosecutor, calling 15 witnesses to the stand including several police officers, Morris County Sheriff’s Office detectives, Haskins Gray as well as Kanarek and Goodwin. Defense attorneys called 23 witnesses including Barisone’s employees, town officials, medical technicians and several former Olympians. Barisone did not take the stand.
But it was three doctors — two proffered by defense attorneys and one by prosecutors — that took the stand and opined very differing views of Barisone’s mental health, particularly his diagnoses.
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The doctors’ statements appeared to weigh heavy on the jurors as they deliberated behind closed doors on Monday: Judge Taylor received a jury note to confirm the dates each doctor met with and evaluated Barisone after the shooting. By Tuesday, the jurors had requested to hear playback of three hours of testimony.
Dr. Steven Simring, a psychiatrist, and Dr. Charles Hasson, a neuropsychologist, testified the once-highly-successful athlete and coach battled the uncommon persecutory delusional disorder, which is a fixed false belief of an external reality despite evidence to the contrary. Barisone believed Kanarek and her fiancé were conspiring against him and were fixated on destroying his business, his horses, his family and friends, they said, before they
The disorder is much rarer than schizophrenia, bipolar disorder or other mood disorders, according to a published study on the National Library of Medicine. Mean age of onset is about 40 years with delusions occurring for one month or more and the persecutory type is most common in males, the study states.
Dr. Louis Schlesinger, a forensic psychologist called as a rebuttal expert by prosecutors, opined there was no basis to conclude Barisone had any sort of psychosis or detachment from reality. He gave diagnoses of depression, which Simring and Hasson also confirmed, as well as anxiety and obsessive compulsive traits, but said none would have affected a person’s ability to know the quality of their acts.
Barisone’s thoughts were instead “reality based,” meaning his fears of being plotted against or that someone “had it in” for him were similar to those pending trial on serious criminal charges, Schlesinger said. He also purported that Hasson failed to acknowledge that there was a marker on an evaluation showing Barisone could have been lying about not having a memory of the shooting.
Prosecutors during the trial relied heavily on Kanarek and Goodwin’s recollection of the shooting and a 911 call that Kanarek placed where she said “Michael Barisone shot me.” Barisone had also allegedly made statements to EMTs and overheard by police such as “I had a good life” and “They destroyed my life in the last six months, they took it all away, I’m sorry this happened.” Bilinkas had argued Barisone’s “I’m sorry” statement was made after he was injected with fentanyl, a potent pain medication, at the hospital.
Bilinkas attempted to poke holes in the prosecutor’s case by stating video that may have been captured by surveillance camera affixed on the farmhouse was not seized at the time of the shooting, despite it having worked the day prior. DNA testing for fingerprints and gunshot residue testing were also not done, he argued.
Barisone did not testify at the trial.
Lori Comstock can be reached on Twitter: @LoriComstockNJH, on Facebook: www.Facebook.com/LoriComstockNJH or by phone: 973-383-1194.