What to Know
- 26-year-old Lauren Pazienza was indicted on manslaughter and assault charges in the March 10 street shove attack of Manhattan's Barbara Gustern. The 87-year-old voice coach died five days later
- The sidewalk attack left Gustern bleeding profusely, and a witness helped her into the lobby of her building where she told police the push was "as hard as she had ever been hit in her life" before blacking out
- Pazienza surrendered to police Tuesday. Security video showed that she spent more than 20 minutes in and around the area after the alleged incident occurred, according to prosecutors
A 26-year-old woman jailed on Rikers Island on manslaughter charges in the death of a beloved 87-year-old voice coach posted bail and has been released.
Lauren Pazienza did not appear in court on Friday, but her lawyer, Arthur Aidala, showed up on her behalf. She surrendered to authorities Tuesday, Aidala by her side, after eluding police for nearly two weeks as they tried to identify the woman seen on surveillance.
"We look forward to getting the evidence and the discovery material from the district attorney's office and my client will now be able to come to our office and discuss the case with my partners and I," Aidala said. "Nobody doubts that this is a tragedy, we're just trying to get to the bottom of what happened that day."
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Pazienza was indicted by a Manhattan grand jury Friday on manslaughter and assault charges in the death of Barbara Gustern, the beloved 87-year-old singing coach who was shoved from behind on a Manhattan sidewalk on March 10.
Aidala has said her family "joins the rest of the city" in grieving the loss of Gustern. He also answered questions of whether Pazienza's parents would face charges for allegedly help her hide out in their Long Island home.
"No. Her parents face zero legal exposure, they were three counties away when this incident took place," he responded.
Her parents posted the $500,000 cash bail to free their daughter from Rikers Island Friday.
Prosecutors say Pazienza deleted her entire online presence — including her wedding website, despite being slated to get married in June — in the aftermath of the sidewalk attack near West 28th Street and Eighth Avenue in Chelsea.
She allegedly fled to her parents' home in Port Jefferson, on Long Island, and stopped using her cellphone, which she stashed at an aunt's house so as to avoid being found by police, prosecutors said.
An anonymous tip on March 19 identifying Pazienza as the suspect in the attack led the NYPD to her parents' door two days later. Her father answered, telling police his daughter wasn't home and that they were not allowed in, according to prosecutors.
Her surrender was arranged soon after. And a jarring narrative began to emerge.
Gustern was just steps away from her home, around 8:30 p.m. the night of the attack, when prosecutors allege Pazienza crossed the street and cursed at her before violently shoving her to the ground. Gustern's head hit the sidewalk.
The attacker appeared to briskly walk off afterward.
Gustern was left bleeding profusely, and a witness helped her into the lobby of her building where she recalled what happened, telling police the push was "as hard as she had ever been hit in her life." She later lost consciousness at the hospital.
Five days later, she died.
Surveillance video from the corner of West 28th Street and Ninth Avenue minutes after the attack showed a woman matching Pazienza's description walking in the same direction a witness told police the attacker went.
Additional surveillance footage tracked Pazienza to Penn Station, where police were able to get a clearer image of her, prosecutors said, and two people who know Pazienza identified her as the woman seen there.
Other security video showed Pazienza in and around the area for almost a half-hour after the attack, according to prosecutors. About seven minutes after the shove, she was seen in a physical altercation with a man believed to be her fiancé, prosecutors said. They also allege Pazienza was later seen watching the ambulance as it arrived at the scene to take Gustern to the hospital.
She and her fiancé were later seen at Penn Station, where both swiped his MetroCard. Detectives were able to track the pair back to their home in Astoria, as video from about an hour and a half after the attack showed Pazienza and her fiancé enter their building, according to prosecutors.
She was wearing the same clothes as the woman who was seen crossing Ninth Avenue immediately following the attack, they added.
Pazienza's attorney told reporters after her arrest that the charges were overblown, and his team would investigate what happened. Aidala also implied that the evidence was unclear, saying the push could have been accidental.
"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.
Aidala also said there's no evidence his client watched the victim lying on the street, and that video could show anyone watching.
She faces up to 25 years in prison if convicted. She's expected back in court next month.
Gustern suffered traumatic brain damage from which she would not recover even if she survived, authorities and the woman's grandson, AJ Gustern, said.
Her grandson AJ Gustern, who visited her in the hospital while she was unconscious, said he was pleased with Pazienza's arrest and that it gave "a sense of closure," but stressed that in his mind, the woman is innocent until proven guilty.
His grandmother's funeral will be held at Holy Apostles Church in Chelsea at 2 p.m. Saturday. There will be a livestream for those who cannot attend, and inside there will be love, laughter and song — because that's what relatives all said what made up Gustern's spirit.
"She was a force of nature. I called her a little star. Tiny ball of energy building community everywhere she went," AJ Gustern said. "To whoever did do this I’m still praying for you and the karmic wave that you’ve taken on is incredible. So God help you."
Cousins of Gustern's who came in for her funeral called her "the glue of the family, she was our queen." They said that her infectious personality is still bringing people together.
"And the people of New York keep (her spirit) alive. She has friends here, but her friends are her family too, and we feel like they're family now," said cousin Debbie Barnett.
According to The New York Times, Gustern was an acclaimed singing coach who once helped train rock singer Debbie Harry and the cast of the 2019 Broadway revival of the musical "Oklahoma!" A neighbor said that Gustern used to perform on Broadway herself, along with her late husband.
Stephen Shanaghan, who owns Manhattan restaurant and theater Pangea, called Gustern a "sharp, clever seasoned New York person." Shanaghan said that Gustern had recently performed there, and that she had hoped to premiere a new cabaret show there.
"They sing and they tell stories, it's very heartwarming. And they've done several different shows here," Shanaghan said.
Pazienza is said to be a former event planner. A former employer, French high-end furniture and home accessory designer and retailer Roche Bobois, said the woman resigned from her role in December.