A 28-year-old woman pleaded guilty to shoving a beloved 87-year-old Broadway vocal coach, leaving her fatally wounded on a New York City street.
Lauren Pazienza, 28, pleaded guilty in New York State Supreme Court to one count of manslaughter in the first degree in the death of Barbara Gustern. Under the terms of the plea, Pazienza will be sentenced to eight years in state prison, followed by five years of post-release supervision. She was set to be sentenced on Sept. 29.
Manhattan District Attorney Alvin L. Bragg, Jr. called it a “senseless and unprovoked attack.”
“Lauren Pazienza aggressively shoved Barbara Gustern to the ground and walked away as the beloved New Yorker lay there bleeding. Today’s plea holds Pazienza accountable for her deadly actions,” he said in a statement. “We continue to mourn the loss of Barbara Gustern, a talented musical theater performer and vocal coach who touched so many in New York City and beyond.”
Pazienza’s attorney, Arthur Aidala, did not immediately respond to Law&Crime’s request for comment. But he previously implied the evidence of his client’s guilt wasn’t necessarily clear.
“Whether it was a push, whether it was a shove, whether it was a kick or whether someone tripped — the evidence is not very solid on that at all,” he said, local NBC affiliate WNBC reported.
It all went down about 8:30 p.m. on March 10. Pazienza was walking from Chelsea Park when she crossed the street, shouted obscenities at Gustern, shoved her to the ground and walked away, officials said.
Gustern was still lucid after the attack and reportedly told a friend: “I’ve never been hit so hard in my life.”
Paramedics rushed Gustern to the hospital, where she became unconscious and died five days after being removed from life support, prosecutors said. She had a massive hemorrhage to the left side of her brain.
After the attack, Pazienza stayed in the area for about 20 minutes before taking the subway to her apartment in Queens with her fiance, prosecutors said. She didn’t mention the assault until late that evening when she told her fiance she had pushed someone, prosecutors said.
After reading a news article about Gustern, she became “really scared and nervous” and told a cousin about the shove. She deleted her social media accounts, took down her wedding website, and fled to Long Island to stay with family, officials said.
She turned herself in and was arrested on March 22, nearly two weeks after the incident, after an anonymous tip led police to her parents’ house.
Gustern was a legendary vocal coach who coached rock stars and Broadway singers. Clients reportedly included Debbie Harry, the lead singer of Blondie, the cast of the 2019 revival of Oklahoma.
One of her students, Morgan Jenness, told the New York Times she “would never have said anything nasty to anyone.”
“The fact that someone ran across the street to push her because they had to take it out on somebody is sad,” she said. “I doubt that she thought that she would kill her, but there are consequences. You can’t just have temper tantrums because the world doesn’t go your way.”
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