A Long Island events planner accused of randomly shoving an 87-year-old Broadway piano coach to death has been charged with manslaughter and second-degree assault after she surrendered to cops on Tuesday. Lauren Pazienza, 26, surrendered as her A-list attorney complained that she was being targeted for her "socioeconomic status."
The allegations against Pazienza stem from the death of Broadway vocal instructor Barbara Maier Gustern, who was allegedly pushed from behind by a woman outside her apartment in Manhattan's Chelsea district on March 10. Gustern, who suffered traumatic brain injuries from the shove, was taken to the hospital where she died five days later.
Realizing Her Crime
Pazienza surrendered on Tuesday more than a week after Gustern died from her injuries suffered during the shove. She remained silent as she was led into Manhattan Criminal Court.
She also covered her face with her flowing red hair obscuring her face as she walked in to face manslaughter and assault charges in the March 10 attack that seriously injured Gustern, a beloved former Broadway voice coach.
During her arraignment, Pazienza cried in front of a court instead of a priest as her bail was set at half a million dollars cash for alleged manslaughter. According to Naomi Puzzello and Caitlyn Fowles, spokeswoman for the Manhattan District Attorney's Office, she did not enter a plea.
As he accused Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg's office of "overcharging" his client, defense attorney Arthur Aidala stated before the judge that "pushing someone who's on the sidewalk" isn't the same as "pushing someone in front of a cliff" or "pushing someone in front of a moving train."
"The DA goes out of their way to undercharge a case, and in this particular case they're overcharging," Aidala said in court, referring to Bragg's progressive policies.
Pazienza's parents, Daniel and Caroline, were solemn as they walked out of court following the arraignment and refused to answer reporters' questions.
Police had been looking for Pazienza since the incident happened but couldn't arrest her. Finally, after getting a tip that Pazienza was hiding out at her parents' Long Island house, NYPD investigators went there. However, her father said she was not at home and refused to allow a search of the property.
Later, on Tuesday, she surrendered to police. She is now facing 25 years in prison for the fatal sidewalk shoving of Gustern. According to the prosecutors, Gustern was heading towards a cab outside her Chelsea apartment building when she was pushed from behind at 8.30 p.m. on March 10.
Gustern head was slammed on the cement due to the shove. Following that, she was assisted back to her feet by a cyclist who rushed her to the hospital "soaked in blood," but she died five days later from her injuries. The New York City Office of Chief Medical Examiner concluded the cause of death was blunt force trauma to the head, according to the criminal complaint.
Gustern, an active performer and voice coach. Following her admission to the hospital, Gustern told police and a friend that an unknown lady crossed the street, approached her directly, called her a "b***h," and shoved her "harder than she had ever been hit in her life."
Pazienza allegedly strolled in the area for approximately 20 minutes after the attack, arguing with her fiancÃ© on a nearby sidewalk before returning to the crime scene to watch an ambulance arrive.
Prosecutors say she returned home to Astoria, Queens, left her job at a Chelsea store soon after the incident, deleted all social media accounts, and removed a webpage advertising her June wedding. Pazienza allegedly escaped to her parents' home on Long Island the day after Guestern died, and then stashed her phone at her aunt's house so police wouldn't discover it.
Judge Michael Gaffey ordered Pazienza to undergo a medical exam and mental-health evaluation after seeing her in "pain" and "crying," Aidala told reporters. Aidala, whose previous clients include infamous producer Harvey Weinstein and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, said after the hearing that his client and her family had been devastated by the ordeal.