Woman Who Fatally Shoved 87-Year-Old Broadway Coach Pleads Guilty

Singing Coach Killed - Credit: Curtis Means/Pool Photo/AP Images
Singing Coach Killed - Credit: Curtis Means/Pool Photo/AP Images

The woman who fatally shoved 87-year-old Broadway vocal coach Barbara Gustern in New York pleaded guilty to a first-degree manslaughter charge.

Lauren Pazienza, 27, will be sentenced to eight years in prison followed by five years of supervision after her release under the terms of the plea, according to the Manhattan District Attorney’s office. She is scheduled to be sentenced on Sept. 29.

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“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,” said District Attorney Bragg 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.”

The DA’s office said the incident occurred at approximately 8:30 p.m. on March 10, 2022 and that Pazienza shouted obscenities at Gustern and “intentionally shoved her to the ground,” causing the vocal coach to fall on her head. Gustern suffered a brain injury that killed her several days after the attack.

According to prosecutors, Pazienza fled the scene and left Gustern as she bled on the ground. Pazienza stayed in the area for about 20 minutes before heading back with her then-fiancé to their apartment in Astoria, Queens. She later mentioned to her then-fiancé that she had pushed someone.

Following the attack, Pazienza deleted her social media accounts, took down her wedding website, and “eventually fled to Long Island to stay with family.”

Gustern’s grandson, A.J., remembered the woman who supported him after the death of his mother. At the age of 87, the Manhattan vocal coach had more stamina than the average college student, he said. “She shone so bright that in my failure to compete with this woman who was three times my age, I started to wonder if something was wrong with me,” he said. “Why couldn’t I keep up with her?”

He also expressed confusion over how and why she died during a memorial for his grandmother at the Church of the Holy Apostles, an episcopal church in midtown Manhattan. “I’m not sure there is some grand meaning to this unthinkable and violent injustice,” he said. “Do not question ‘What if?’ Question ‘What is?’ What is this world that we as individuals have built together? What are the collective choices that we make that allow such a positive force of nature like my Bobbob to be murdered across the street from this very church.”

Over the years, her clientele included Blondie’s Debbie Harry, avant-garde heroine Diamanda Galás, Bikini Kill’s Kathleen Hanna, Broadway performers, downtown firebrands, and anyone who wanted to learn to sing. When it was time to hit a show to see her pupils, she’d walk up to a mile and a half. “She was 4’11” and probably weighed 70 pounds,” Harry previously told Rolling Stone following Gustern’s death. “She had the body of a child, but she was a dynamo in this little, tiny body. It was just astounding.”

“She was that rare New Yorker who wasn’t bitter,” Hanna said. “I wanted to be as generous and smart and good at my craft as she was. I wanted to be as well-read and funny; she’s fucking hilarious.”

Gustern attended Bikini Kill’s 2019 run of reunion shows in Brooklyn. “When she is in your audience, she‘s who the whole show is for in your head,” Hanna remembered. “After the show, she came backstage and there were all kinds of cool people there and she was the one I ran to immediately and just stared in her eyes and was like, ‘Thank you, thank you, thank you. I felt you with me tonight.’ Hugging her afterwards was one of the happiest moments of my life. Just being able to thank her and remind her how much I loved her.”

On Thursday, Harry responded to Pazienza’s sentencing and condemned what she felt was a too-lenient sentence for the senseless crime. “It’s incomprehensible that proper justice for her murder was not delivered,” she said in a statement to Rolling Stone. “The city’s failure to administer adequate punishment — settling for a plea deal that will likely see Lauren Prienza serve less than 8 years for murder — is a disservice to Barbara and the contributions she made to this city.”

This article was updated on Aug. 24 at 11:14 p.m. E.T. to include Debbie Harry’s statement to Rolling Stone.

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