A New York woman has pled guilty to fatally pushing a renowned Broadway vocal coach to the ground last year in what was described as a random act of violence.
Lauren Pazienza, 28, entered her plea to first-degree manslaughter Wednesday in Manhattan as part of an agreement that will see her serve eight years in prison and five years of post-release supervision.
She is scheduled to be formally sentenced on Sept. 29.
Pazienza admitted to shouting obscenities at Barbara Maier Gustern, 87, and shoving her to the ground after crossing a street to approach her on the evening of March 10, 2022. Gustern hit her head and died in a hospital five days later.
“Today’s plea holds Pazienza accountable for her deadly actions,” Manhattan District Attorney Bragg said Wednesday 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 left Gustern bleeding on the pavement without assistance. She stayed in the surrounding area for approximately 20 minutes before returning to her apartment in Queens with her then-fiancé, authorities said.
Later that night, authorities said, she told her fiancé that she had pushed someone. She subsequently deleted her social media accounts, removed her wedding website and fled to Long Island to stay with family.
Pazienza faced up to 25 years in prison if the case had gone to trial, according to The New York Times.
Prosecutors had said that the violence followed a volatile evening between Pazienza and her fiancé.
The two were celebrating their upcoming nuptials with an impromptu meal in a Manhattan park when they were told that the park was closing and they needed to leave. Pazienza allegedly threw her meal onto her fiancé and stormed away before encountering Gustern.
“She had had drugs, she had maybe two bottles of wine, and a ton of marijuana [at the time],” Pazienza’s attorney, Arthur Aidala, told the New York Post last year, arguing that she didn’t know what she was doing when she accosted Gustern. “We have very viable defenses about whether someone in her state was able to possess the intent, the intent to commit crimes.”
Gustern was well-known in the theater world. She was a vocal coach for cast members of the 2019 Broadway revival of “Oklahoma,” which won a Tony for best musical revival. She also offered private lessons, including for Blondie singer Debbie Harry.
Need help with substance use disorder or mental health issues? In the U.S., call 800-662-HELP (4357) for the SAMHSA National Helpline.