Former Olympian Michael Barisone, who earlier this month was acquitted of attempted murder after allegedly shooting his tenant, now looks to the future, and he has the support of his loved ones – including a love interest – and hundreds of fans, some halfway around the world.
At the peak of his career, Barisone, 58, was hailed as one of the world’s best dressage trainers and riders, but doctors ruled he suffered from delusional disorder which severely impaired his thinking when in 2019, he shot student Lauren Kanarek twice on his Long Valley Farm. Barisone, whose mental health history was propelled into the spotlight during his 11-day trial, during which he often sat hunched over in a chair with a pained look, claimed Kanarek had mentally abused him.
After 18 hours of deliberations, a jury found Barisone not criminally guilty in the shooting, returning a verdict of not guilty by reason of insanity for attempted murder and weapons offence. The jury also found Barisone not guilty of the attempted murder of Kanarek’s fiancé Robert Goodwin and another weapons charge.
But now, nearly two weeks from his acquittal, Barisone, who as of Tuesday was still awaiting transfer to a Trenton mental institution for evaluation, is focused on rebuilding his life one step at a time.
“The weight of the world has come off his shoulders,” said his attorney, Edward Bilinkas, who has visited or spoken by phone with Barisone at the Morris County Jail several times since the trial. “He literally looks like a different person.”
How? On the one hand, Barisone has started talking about his future and what it looks like for him, Bilinkas said: He misses his horses and his riding, but he wants to start his life over and is trying to figure out what he needs to do. do to allow this to happen.
It remains unclear whether he will receive long-term treatment or be released – a judge will determine that at a closed hearing in May – but Bilinkas said it is beneficial that he has a support system, including Lara Osborne, his girlfriend.
Osborne, who lives in Florida, developed a friendship with Barisone about four years ago that has since grown into more, she said by phone Tuesday. Osborne first met Barisone when she enrolled her daughter in a dressage clinic in the summer of 2018. Barisone then coached the teenager to a national championship in Illinois, and she began living at the Barisone farm in New Jersey as a student.
“He’s very charismatic with a wicked sense of humor, just like my sense of humor, so I totally got it,” Osborne said. “He’s the nicest person I’ve ever met, and he would bend over backwards to [my daughter].”
Osborne, who was on the property with her daughter on August 7, 2019, the day of the shooting, said she didn’t know when their friendship turned into something more, but offered support in Barisone after his arrest and had visited him weekly. in jail. Their relationship “grew from there,” she said.
The story continues after the gallery
Now, Osborne is doing what she can to help Barisone stay afloat financially, including with her high attorney fees, while she awaits her evaluation. She has created a GoFundMe campaign which garnered support from near and far. By Tuesday afternoon, the fundraiser had raised nearly $50,000.
Many of these supporters are friends outside the equestrian world, as well as other riders and Barisone alumni, the latter proving that the dressage community is tight-knit. One fan wrote: “People don’t realize that when you play against one member of the dressage community, you’re against the whole dressage family.”
But complete strangers also felt compelled to donate, with one saying the Barisone trial, which was broadcast live by Law and Crime Network“hit me personally.”
Bilinkas has also become something of a messenger, having compiled “hundreds” of letters of support to his client that were sent to his office. He also answered dozens of phone calls, some from as far away as New Zealand and Dubai, he said.
“I have been [an attorney] for 40 years, and I’ve never seen anything like it,” said Bilinkas, who served as a defense attorney for about 35 of those years.
“I’ve had some really big cases, but never has there been so much support for someone who’s been accused of something like this in particular,” he added.
Bilinkas said he believed Barisone was in touch with people because of the positive reputation he gained from meeting so many people during his travels around the world as an elite member of his sport.
“I never heard a single person speak ill of him,” Bilinkas said. “Most importantly, even after these kinds of allegations, everyone is showing her nothing but love and support, even before the verdict.”
But now, after the verdict, there is a bigger onslaught of people, he said.
A feud between Barisone and Kanarek and Goodwin had escalated over time, and Barisone had unsuccessfully sought to remove them from his property months before the shooting. Kanarek had used Facebook to detail his ongoing disputes with Barisone.
Kanarek survived the shooting, but was placed in an induced coma and spent nearly three weeks in intensive care. A promising trainer, Kanarek testified at trial that she was back to ridingbut not at the same level.
Prosecutors argued that Barisone was well aware of what he was doing when he loaded a gun and drove to the farm to shoot Kanarek and allegedly Goodwin. A psychologist who testified on behalf of the prosecution suggested Barisone had no illusions and believed he was presenting as “more disturbed” than he actually was.
Barisone collapsed in his lawyer’s arms when the verdict was read on April 14, his frail body physically shaking. Osborne said she couldn’t kiss him then because sheriff’s officers didn’t allow it, but she was able to see him later.
Osborne said it’s important that Barisone gets the therapy he needs to deal with everything that’s happened and then takes it one day at a time. His Long Valley farm was sold, she said, so his home would be in Florida, where he was told at trial that he owned a farm. Barisone is not eligible to compete in dressage due to a suspension by SafeSport, an organization that accuses abuse among U.S. Olympians, but Osborne said it will be “addressed”.
His talent as a trainer and driver must not be forgotten, she said, and he may one day return to it, but for now there is only one objective: “We just have to take him home.”
Lori Comstock can be reached on Twitter: @LoriComstockNJH, on Facebook: www.Facebook.com/LoriComstockNJH or by phone: 973-383-1194.