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Trial Date Set For Queens Woman Who Fatally Shoved Beloved Broadway Voice Coach

Lauren Pazienza is accused of shoving Barbara Gustern, 87, to the ground on a New York City street in March, causing the injuries that resulted in her death. The young woman is set to stand trial in October.

By Dorian Geiger
A personal photo of Barbara Maier Gustern

A New York woman accused of shoving an 87-year-old voice coach to her death on a Manhattan street will head to trial in just over a month. 

Lauren Pazienza’s case is scheduled to go to trial on Oct. 6, the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office said. A judge set the date during Pazienza’s brief court appearance Tuesday.

Pazienza allegedly shoved Barbara Gustern to the concrete “for no apparent reason” on Manhattan’s upscale Chelsea neighborhood on March 10, according to a criminal complaint obtained by Oxygen.com. Witnesses found Gustern on the ground, bleeding profusely from her head.

Surveillance footage and eyewitnesses later implicated Pazienza in the brazen attack. She initially fled, but turned herself in after police showed up at her parents’ Long Island home.

Prior to the deadly street encounter, Pazienza and her fiancé were eating inside nearby Chelsea Park, according to separate court records obtained by Oxygen.com. Pazienza threw her food and stormed out of the area without her fiancé after an attendant advised them the park was closing.

After she exited the park and headed down 28th Street, she allegedly encountered Gustern.

Pazienza allegedly called the 87-year-old woman a "bi-ch," and then “pushed her as hard as Ms. Gustern had ever been hit in her life, causing Ms. Gustern to fall and hit her head on the pavement,” the case’s complaint stated. (Gustern retained consciousness long enough to provide a description of the event to witnesses.)

Pazienza then met up with and continued to fight with her fiancé, accused him of “ruining her night,” court filings show. She allegedly didn’t mention the shoving incident until hours later, after the couple returned to their Astoria apartment via the subway. 

“She said that she thought the person had fallen, and she walked away,” court documents allege. “When asked why, the defendant said that the person ‘might have said something’ to her, but she wasn’t sure. That was her only explanation.”

Gustern, who suffered massive hemorrhaging to the left side of her brain in the attack, was 4'11" and weighed only 100 pounds, court filings show. She died five days later at Bellevue Hospital from blunt force trauma, according to New York City’s Office of the Chief Medical Examiner. Her death was ruled a homicide.

Prosecutors don't believe Gustern and Pazienza even knew each other. 

Lauren Pazienza as she gets arrested

Pazienza allegedly became “scared and nervous” after news of the elderly woman’s death broke in local media, and fled her fiancé's Astoria condominium to stay at her parents’ Long Island home. According to prosecutors, the event planner deleted all her social media and stashed her phone at her aunt’s house. But she ultimately turned herself in shortly after police officers showed up at her parents' house looking for her.

She was charged with manslaughter, as well as first and second-degree assault in the unprovoked March killing, according to an indictment obtained by Oxygen.com. She's pleaded not guilty.

“This was a senseless and unprovoked attack,” Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg said in a statement in May. “Barbara Gustern was a beloved vocal coach who lived a vibrant and active life at the age of 87, and her loss was felt deeply by many throughout the city. After allegedly walking away from Ms. Gustern as she laid on the ground bleeding, Lauren Pazienza went to great lengths to avoid accountability for her actions.”

Pazienza’s former neighbors at her upscale Astoria condominium said the 27-year-old was prone to outbursts and had a history of flying off the handle.

“Everyone in the building knows to avoid her,” one resident told the New York Post earlier this year. “You hear screaming fights between her and her fiancé. You would never hear the fiancé. You would just hear her screaming.”

It is unclear if the two remain engaged.

In the wake of the Gustern’s killing, former classmates of Pazienza also spoke out, with one describing her as “a basket case in disguise” who was secretly consumed by “simmering rage.” 

“I heard that the day [Gustern’s death] happened, and I said to myself, ‘She would,’” Trey Siemers, a former peer of Pazienza’s, told the Post. “She would do that because she kind of had a covered-up anger issue.”

Gustern’s obituary, on the other hand, described the celebrated vocal coach originally from Indiana as an “87-year-old teenager” who had “boundless energy” and a “fearless attitude.”

“We have lost one of the brightest little flames to ever grace this world," her grandson A.J. Gustern said, following her death in March.

Gustern had worked as the voice director for the revival of the 2019 Tony Award-winning musical “Oklahoma!” She had also recently directed a cabaret featuring Austin Pendleton and Barbara Bleier.

“She sought to create a refuge for artistic people caught in the margins of our world and everyone in between,” her obituary stated. Barbara embodied strong small-town roots and the ever-rarer Depression era work ethic.”

Pazienza is being held at Rikers Island pending trial, according to online jail records. She was briefly released following her arrest on a $500,000 bail but was since remanded after a judge ruled she posed a flight risk.

The office of Arthur Aidala, Pazienza’s defense counsel, declined to comment on the case when contacted by Oxygen.com on Wednesday.

If convicted on the manslaughter charge in Gustern’s death, Pazienza could face up to 25 years in prison. In May, Pazienza turned down a plea deal from prosecutors that had sought a 15-year prison term and five years of supervised release.

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