Prosecution rests in attempted murder trial of ex-Olympian Michael Barisone

·5 min read

Prosecutors closed their case Monday in the trial of Michael Barisone, a former Olympian charged with attempted murder for allegedly shooting twice a tenant on his Long Valley farm before attempting to shoot her fiancé.

"The state rests," Christopher Schellhorn, a supervising assistant prosecutor for Morris County, said just before the lunch break.

Jurors socially distanced inside a courtroom in the Morris County Courthouse have heard from 14 witnesses since the trial started on March 28 including police officers, crime scene investigators, Barisone's girlfriend and employees and the victim Lauren Kanarek and her fiancé Robert Goodwin.

The defense began calling their witnesses Monday afternoon.

Defense attorneys have argued Barisone was suffering from temporary insanity at the time of the Aug. 7, 2019 shooting following a months-long dispute with trainee Kanarek and Goodwin that had triggered a prior mental health history and left him in fear for his life. Barisone's attorneys have not contested prosecutors' claims his client pulled the trigger, but they have asserted he reacted in self-defense.

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Barisone has appeared frail and restless in court since the start of the trial, often contorting his face in pain or shock — a marked change since his many years at the helm of the elite equestrian sport of dressage.

In just over six days, prosecutors presented evidence they say points to Barisone knowingly obtaining a gun, loading it and using it with enough inference to prove he intended to cause death.

Ex-Olympian Michael Barisone went through several emotions during his attempted murder trial in the Morris County Superior Courthouse on Wednesday, March 30, 2022.
Ex-Olympian Michael Barisone went through several emotions during his attempted murder trial in the Morris County Superior Courthouse on Wednesday, March 30, 2022.

Among the experts called to the stand was Morris County Sheriff's Office Detective André Zaharopoulos, who served as the prosecutors' expert in shooting reconstruction.

Zaharopoulos testified that he was advised en route to Barisone's Long Valley farm after the shooting that Kanarek had been shot twice and a third bullet struck the door on the back patio. It was "downpouring" rain at the time, he said.

Zaharopoulos testified that after analyzing the scene, he found two shell casings, or leftover debris from a bullet being fired. He determined that the bullets fired traveled in an upward angle — about 14 degrees — but could not determine at what height the shooter was at when it was fired.

Since Zaharopoulos was unable to determine the height of the gun when it was fired, Barisone's attorney Edward Bilinkas opined that the shooter could have fired the weapon amid a struggle while on the deck or while on their back.

"If someone on the ground fired the weapon, that is consistent with your analysis, correct?" Bilinkas asked.

"It would have had to have been closer to the truck," Zaharopoulos said, referring to a truck driven by Barisone, who had parked near the patio of the house before allegedly getting out.

Goodwin described the shooting from his perspective, recalling the struggle that ensued after his fiancée was shot. A one-time U.S. Marine, Goodwin said he punched Barisone in the forehead and then placed him in a chokehold while Kanarek grabbed Barisone's arms to hold them down. She also struck Barisone in the head, Goodwin said, in an attempt to "stop him from murdering us."

Goodwin said he did not know how many times he punched Barisone, but said he did so because he and Kanarek were in a "fight for their life." Kanarek struck Barisone multiple times with her cellphone and their dog Rosie, who was loose at the time bit Barisone as well as Goodwin, he added. Goodwin said he broke Barisone's arm during the struggle.

Jason Gould, a detective with the Morris County Prosecutor's Office Major Crimes Unit, testified that while in a room in the intensive care unit at Morristown Medical Center, he heard Barisone say, "They destroyed my life in the last six months, they took it all away, I'm sorry this happened." He said Barisone said the statement after receiving one dose of fentanyl for pain relief. Bilinkas, during cross examination, asked if Gould initially wrote in his notes that Barisone said "I'm sorry this happened," and Gould said he did not.

Jason Hensley, a patrol officer with the Washington Township Police Department, said he traveled with Barisone to the hospital following the incident and overheard him say "Is this real? I need to wake up" several times in a "robotic" voice.

Once dignified, now disheveled

Cristianna Cooke-Gibbs, the health officer in Washington Township, was among the first witnesses for the defense to take the stand Monday afternoon. She had known Barisone for many years through their many interactions and recalled him as an "elegant, competent and dignified man."

But when she was called to his home a day before the shooting for a construction complaint filed by Goodwin, she noticed a very different man: Barisone was "upset, undone and disheveled."

"He was not the competent guy I remembered," she said. "He was a very different person."

Larry Davidson, who had delivered farm supplies to Barisone, said he was hired by Barisone to keep watch of the property late at night because Barisone had expressed concerns over Kanarek living there. He described Barisone as being "out of it" and often walking the property late at night.

Fire inspectors in Washington Township, who responded to the property due to Goodwin's complaint, a private investigator hired by Barisone and an EMT with St. Clare's Health System were among others to take the stand Monday.

Defense attorneys are expected to introduce upwards of 20 witnesses and experts this week. It is still unclear if Barisone will take the stand.

Lori Comstock can be reached on Twitter: @LoriComstockNJH, on Facebook: www.Facebook.com/LoriComstockNJH or by phone: 973-383-1194.

This article originally appeared on Morristown Daily Record: Michael Barisone trial: Prosecution rests against ex-Olympian