Earlier this year, 58-year-old former Olympic equestrianstood trial in a Morristown, New Jersey, courtroom for the attempted murder of his own riding student, Lauren Kanarek. Barisone’s legal team of Ed Bilinkas and Christopher Deininger would gamble on an unusual defense. They claimed that at the time of the shooting Barisone was insane, and not legally responsible for his actions. Insanity pleas are uncommon and rarely successful. Barisone’s defense would be that Lauren Kanarek had driven him over the edge, in large part by her use of social media.
Michael Barisone speaks out in his first television interview since the end of his trial in “The Shooting of Lauren Kanarek,” the 35th season premiere of “48 Hours.”
It was as great a fall from grace as his elite equestrian sport had ever seen. Barisone excelled at dressage — training horses to seemingly dance. He was considered one of the best coaches in the world, teaching fellow Olympians like Boyd Martin and Allison Brock, and representing Team USA in Beijing.
Barisone owned two magnificent horse farms, one outside Palm Beach, the other in prime New Jersey horse country. He called it Hawthorne Hill. It was in March 2018 that Lauren Kanarek began training there with Barisone. Kanarek had her own equestrian dreams, and was soon paying $5,000 a month to train, board her horses there, and live in a farmhouse on Barisone’s property. For an amateur like Kanarek, it seemed like the ultimate arrangement, a riding student being trained by one of the masters in the sport.
But by summer 2019 the arrangement had turned bad and would soon become explosive. Staff members at Hawthorne Hill told “48 Hours” contributorthe relationship between Barisone and Kanarek began to sour over Kanarek’s expectations about her training. She wanted more coaching directly from Barisone, not his assistant trainers.
Kanarek, an active user of social media, began posting her dramatic complaints on Facebook. And over the summer of 2019 they escalated. On July 25, 2019, Kanarek posted, “It’s about time to possibly go to war. Anyone who repeatedly kicks a resting beast will eventually wake her up!” In another post she describes Barisone as “racist, homophobic,” and “antisemitic” — allegations Barisone passionately denies.
“There were things coming out on social media that were horrific,” Barisone told Battiste in an exclusive interview. Barisone says he was frightened and unnerved by Lauren’s postings. “I remember complete and total panic,” said Barisone. “Everybody says I was unglued. I was unglued.” Barisone’s supporters say her postings were unfairly damaging his reputation, and he worried it would ruin his business.
Barisone claims he asked Kanarek and her boyfriend Rob Goodwin to leave his property. But he says they refused. Barisone called 911 four times, asking for assistance, and telling local cops that he was “in fear for our lives.” But police may have viewed it as nothing more than a landlord-tenant dispute.
Tensions at Hawthorne Hill reached a boiling point on August 7, 2019. Michael Barisone took a gun from the safe in his office and drove his truck down the long gravel driveway to the farmhouse where Kanarek and Goodwin were living.
What happened next remains unclear, but at 2:13 p.m., Lauren Kanarek managed to call 911 while bleeding heavily from two gunshot wounds. During the phone call, Rob Goodwin can be heard wrestling and subduing Michael Barisone. When police arrived, they found Goodwin on top of a badly beaten Barisone. The 9 mm handgun was by Barisone’s hand. Lauren was lying flat on her back in critical condition. She was transported to a hospital for emergency surgery. The next day Barisone was charged with two counts of attempted murder. He was facing 80 years in prison.
He was jailed for over two years, until spring 2022 when his trial finally began. The sensational trial went on for almost three weeks.
Lauren Kanarek was asked during her testimony if she had a plan to destroy Michael Barisone. Kanarek replied, “At some point, yes.” She was quick to make sure the jury understood that she was the victim — having spent weeks in a hospital, in the ICU with a tube down her throat.
Michael Barisone told “48 Hours” that he remembers entering his office but does not remember grabbing the gun or shooting Kanarek. The defense team hired mental health experts to bolster their claims that Barisone had in fact been temporarily insane. “She drove him crazy. She gaslighted him and she drove him over the edge,” Dr. Steven Simring told Battiste in his interview with “48 Hours.” The psychiatrist told the jury that Barisone developed a delusional disorder through Kanarek’s targeted use of social media, in addition to other events leading up to the shooting.
The state’s expert psychologist, Dr. Louis Schlesinger, disagreed with Dr. Simring. During his testimony, Dr. Schlesinger said Barisone’s ability to remember everything except for grabbing the gun, driving to the farmhouse, and shooting Kanarek is a “red flag.” He doubts Barisone’s story and does not believe he was insane.
The jury deliberated for four days. They came back with a dramatic verdict: Michael Barisone was “not guilty by reason of insanity.” He was not criminally responsible for his actions that afternoon at Hawthorne Hill. Overcome by emotion, Barisone collapsed weeping into his attorney’s arms. His defense team rejoiced, calling it “justice.” After a few weeks, Barisone was transferred to a psychiatric facility.
Lauren Kanarek’s father Jonathan Kanarek believes the jury got it all wrong and that Barisone should “spend the rest of his life” in prison. He adds that Lauren was “shocked and dismayed” by the verdict. Lauren has not given up her efforts to hold Barisone accountable and has hired a civil attorney to sue Barisone on her behalf.
In a hearing on September 7, 2022, a judge ordered Barisone be transferred to the less-restrictive Greystone Park Psychiatric Hospital for mental health treatment, with a follow-up hearing in six months to check on his progress. After years of surgeries and treatments, Lauren Kanarek is beginning to ride horses again.