Michael Barisone’s attempted murder trial got underway Monday, March 28, with opening statements that painted a picture of a toxic barn environment created by an escalating feud between the Grand Prix trainer and his former student Lauren Kanarek, who lived on his New Jersey farm with her boyfriend, Robert Goodwin.
Barisone, 57, has pleaded not guilty to two counts of attempted murder and two counts of possession of a weapon for an unlawful purpose stemming from the Aug. 7, 2019, shooting of Kanarek at Barisone’s Hawthorne Hill training center in Long Valley, New Jersey. The jury trial, being held at Morris County Courthouse in Morristown, New Jersey, is expected to take four weeks.
Morris County Supervising Assistant Prosecutor Christopher Schellhorn opened his case against Barisone by talking about the worsening relationship Barisone and his girlfriend, Mary Haskins, had with Kanarek and Goodwin. Kanarek originally had come to Barisone as a training client and boarded horses at the farm as well as living there.
“You’re going to hear how bad things were at Hawthorne Hill,” Schellhorn told the jury. “You’ll hear how the defendant and Mary Haskins were hassling and giving a hard time to Lauren Kanarek and Robert Goodwin. How police had been called to property since July 31  on almost a daily basis because these people could not get along.”
That “hassling” included filing complaints against each other with various authorities, including government agencies, the U.S. Equestrian Federation and the U.S. Center for SafeSport, he said.
“You may hear things you don’t like about Lauren Kanarek or Robert Goodwin,” he told jurors, admonishing them to remember that only Barisone, not anyone else involved in the situation, is on trial. “We’re here because of the defendant’s choice to get a gun—a pink and black handgun—point that gun at Lauren Kanarek and pull the trigger twice.”
On the day of the shooting, a case worker from the state’s Division of Child Protection and Permanency arrived at the farm in response to a complaint filed against Barisone with the U.S. Center for SafeSport, Schellhorn said. While the case worker interviewed Haskins in the barn office, Barisone interrupted them several times and finally told them to leave, Schellhorn said. That office was where Barisone was keeping a 9 mm Ruger pistol he had gotten several days earlier from another client, Ruth Cox, he said. (Cox, 74, who initially faced a criminal charge for unlawfully transferring a firearm by giving the gun to Barisone, agreed in December to enter the state’s Pretrial Intervention Program and cooperate with prosecutors in exchange for the charge’s dismissal.)
In his opening statement, Schellhorn told jurors that Barisone got the gun, a deadly weapon, with the intention to use it illegally against Kanarek and Goodwin. He also told them that “law on TV is not the same as it is in real life,” and that attempted murder does not require preparation or planning.
“Under a moment of impulse or emotion, they ignore the ability to tell between right and wrong,” he said. “So even though it may not have been an act that was preconceived or premeditated, or planned out in great detail before that, the person can still act with purpose.”
Barisone’s defense attorney, Edward Bilinkas, whose opening statement took roughly 40 minutes compared with Schellhorn’s 20, described a man driven to his breaking point by “Lauren Kanarek, her father and her boyfriend devising a plan to destroy this man and drive him crazy. It’s about the most devious attempt to destroy another human being that you’ll ever hear.”
“My client is not guilty,” Bilinkas told the jury. “At the time of the shooting, he feared for his life. He suffered from a mental disease and did not know what he was doing was wrong, that concept of purposefulness.”
Bilinkas has said he plans to argue both insanity and self-defense in the case, and he laid the foundations for those arguments by talking about an alleged campaign of harassment and online threats, buoyed by illegal hidden recording devices he said Kanarek and Goodwin installed around the property. That, he said, was made worse by a local police department that refused to take action against the couple despite Barisone calling them four times and visiting their office once in person, between July 31 and the day of the shooting, telling them repeatedly that he feared for his life.
“At some point, she starts ramping up her social media, starts posting threatening things on Facebook,” Bilinkas said. “[Barisone and his staff] see postings of her talking incessantly about guns, carrying guns, sleeping with a 9 mm under her pillow; that she’s being bullied by a 6’3” man, and she’s afraid of this person. … She talks about going to war.”
Barisone ultimately moved himself and Haskins out of the shared house to the stables because he was worried about their safety, Bilinkas said.
Kanarek and Goodwin used hidden recording devices to spy on and harass Barisone, Bilinkas told jurors.
“We have over 70 private conversations that they recorded, in the residence, the stable, the club area that became his residence, and even his private office,” he said. “What’s worse, not only is she illegally recording Barisone, she starts using those recording to taunt him, to put him over the edge. She’s posting, for everyone to see, private conversations.”
The alleged harassment escalated to include complaints to USEF and SafeSport, in which they alleged Barisone had sexually abused Haskins’ child, and to the township to report various alleged code violations, which officials arrived to investigate on Aug. 6, the day before the shooting. Bilinkas said the township inspections caused Barisone to be kicked out of his sleeping arrangement in the stable: “He’s now sleeping on a mattress in front of stables; he’s now virtually homeless.”
The same day, he alleged, Goodwin made the shape of a gun with his fingers and mouthed the words, “Get ready” to Barisone.
The “coup de grace,” Bilinkas said, came from Kanarek’s call to SafeSport, which led to the child protective services case worker arriving on Aug. 7.
“She did the worst thing any human being could do to any other human being: She falsely accused him of sexual misconduct with his girlfriend’s son,” Bilinkas said.
Barisone later would tell people that, between the time the case worker arrived to when he woke up in the hospital after the shooting, “Everything went black,” Bilinkas said.
Kanarek was shot twice in the chest. Police responding to the scene found her bleeding from the chest and Barisone being held down by Goodwin.
After the opening statements, Superior Court Judge Stephen Taylor told the jurors that not everything they had heard so far may be admissible as evidence. Sixteen jurors have been seated, and before deliberations, four will be selected at random as alternates so that a 12-member jury reaches a verdict. The verdict must be unanimous.
If convicted on all four counts and the sentences on the weapons and attempted-murder counts run consecutively, Barisone could face up to 60 years in prison. Because the charges fall under the No Early Release Act, he would have to serve 85% of each sentence—20 years for each attempted murder charge, 10 for each weapons charge—before being eligible for parole.
The trial is being broadcast live on lawandcrime.com.