After eleven days of testimony with nearly 50 witnesses and experts taking the stand, a jury began deliberating Monday two drastically different theories as to the state of mind of once-elite Olympian Michael Barisone when he purportedly shot twice his tenant.
In one, Morris County prosecutors say the former equestrian rider and coach obtained a gun from his safe on Aug. 7, 2019, loaded it, drove to his farmhouse and unloaded three bullets: two striking Lauren Kanarek in the chest and another that went awry but with the intent to strike her fiancé Robert Goodwin. Barisone, acting “impulsively and emotionally,” knew what he was doing was wrong and acted with the intent to kill, said Christopher Schellhorn, a supervising assistant prosecutor.
The other theory, presented by defense attorneys on Monday, paints a picture of a once-confident and dignified man at the top of his field who had for over 20 years battled mental health disorders. Amid internal strife with trainee Kanarek and Goodwin, Barisone became detached from reality, paranoid and fearful for his life and was legally insane and did not know what he had done was wrong, said Edward Bilinkas, Barisone’s attorney.
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Judge Stephen Taylor in Morris County Superior Court gave the jury their instructions Monday after the lunch break before the jury was handed the case at 3 p.m.
Barisone is facing two first-degree attempted murder charges and two second-degree weapons charges. Should the jury find Barisone not guilty on the attempted murder charges, they can consider a lesser charge of aggravated assault, Taylor said Monday.
During closing arguments Monday morning in Morris County Superior Court, Bilinkas, who choked up with tears at the end of his summation, also attempted to discredit the prosecutors’ “inadequate” investigation of the case from the start. The only evidence of how the shooting occurred comes from Kanarek and Goodwin, who plotted to destroy Barisone’s life and business and “have a motive to lie and who have changed their stories.”
Bilinkas asked the jury to disregard the couple’s testimony if they believe they intentionally came to court and lied on the stand.
Trial:Doctors offer vastly differing diagnoses of ex-Olympian Michael Barisone during trial
Schellhorn asked the jury to do the same if they found the defense experts to be not credible; Dr. Charles Hasson, a neuropsychologist, and Dr. Steven Simring, a psychiatrist, testified for the defense that Barisone was battling delusional disorder and persistent depressive disorder. Both believed Barisone was so severely ill and detached from reality, he was legally insane at the time of the shooting.
The state’s rebuttal expert, Dr. Louis Schlesinger, a forensic psychologist, became heated at times during his testimony last week, stating that he believed Hasson had failed to report vital findings from his evaluation of Barisone, including a marker on the test that showed it was possible Barisone lied when he said he couldn’t remember the shooting. Schlesinger testified that while he believed Barisone to have depression, anxiety and even a personality disorder, it would not have distorted his thinking enough to prevent him from knowing what he had done was wrong. Barisone’s purported “delusions, Schlesinger opined, was instead “reality-based” since it is not uncommon for a defendant facing criminal charges
Much of the state’s case relies on Kanarek and Goodwin’s recollection of the shooting, a 911 call and statements Barisone allegedly made to EMTs and overheard by police including “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.”
A surveillance camera affixed on the farmhouse was not seized at the time of the shooting, despite it having worked the day prior, Bilinkas claimed when he listed what he believed to be holes in the prosecutors’ case. DNA testing for fingerprints of the gun, magazine and casings were not done — prosecutors claimed heavy rains put a damper on that possibility — nor were gunshot residue testing of Barisone’s hands, defense attorneys argued.
Barisone did not testify at the trial, although several photos were shown of him prior to the shooting and immediately after by defense attorneys to show his extensive injuries after Kanarek and Goodwin testified they had struck him several times to prevent themselves from getting killed.
Schellhorn, in his closing summation, mocked the use of the word “delusional” to describe Barisone and instead called it an “emotional impulse.” He questioned what the “trigger” was that caused Barisone to react on Aug. 7, 2019:
“Defendant hadn’t seen Lauren or Rob that day, what makes the delusion at that point click?” Schellhorn said. “He turns off his memory and (something) makes him say, ‘I have to kill or be killed? This delusion of fear has driven me to have to go and kill’?”
“I would ask you not return a verdict based on any sympathy, disgust or emotion, but that you return a verdict based on reason, based on facts and based on the law,” Schellhorn said.
Bilinkas, on the other end, asked the jury to be mindful of Barisone’s history of mental illness and how the once-successful equestrian had fallen into a catatonic state due to Kanarek and Goodwin’s toxic behaviors.
“What Lauren Kanarek, Robert Goodwin and (Kanarek’s) father did to him was horrible. Horrible!” Bilinkas said, at times yelling. “They had a plan to destroy Michael Barisone, don’t let them use you to do the job.”
Lori Comstock can be reached on Twitter: @LoriComstockNJH, on Facebook: www.Facebook.com/LoriComstockNJH or by phone: 973-383-1194.