A woman pleaded guilty on Wednesday to first-degree manslaughter for fatally shoving a beloved, 87-year-old Broadway singing coach last March in a bizarre act of random violence that shocked New Yorkers.
The woman, Lauren Pazienza, 28, reached an agreement with the Manhattan district attorney’s office to serve eight years in prison and five years of post-release supervision. The judge in the case, Felicia A. Mennin, accepted the plea and scheduled a formal sentencing for Sept. 29.
After pushing the singing coach, Barbara Maier Gustern, with whom she had no prior relationship, Ms. Pazienza returned to her home in Queens, mentioning to her then-fiancé, almost in passing, that she had pushed someone, prosecutors have said.
Two days later, realizing that Ms. Gustern had been seriously injured and that the attack had received press coverage, she fled, first to her parents’ house on Long Island and then to her aunt’s house.
Ms. Gustern had hit her head after being shoved and suffered a brain injury that killed her several days after the attack.
In New York State Supreme Court on Wednesday, Ms. Pazienza appeared in handcuffs wearing a pink sweatshirt, her face tear-stained. Accompanied by her lawyer, Arthur L. Aidala, she stated her name for the record and agreed to give up her right to a trial, where, if she were found guilty, she would have faced a sentence of up to 25 years in prison.
Her voice was soft as she admitted to having caused Ms. Gustern’s death.
The district attorney, Alvin L. Bragg, said in a statement that the plea held Ms. Pazienza accountable for her deadly actions.
“Lauren Pazienza aggressively shoved Barbara Gustern to the ground and walked away as the beloved New Yorker lay there bleeding,” his statement said. “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.”
Ms. Pazienza was 100 days out from her wedding when she attacked Ms. Gustern on the evening of March 10, 2022. The prosecutor on the case, Justin McNabney, has said that the episode capped off an extended temper tantrum by Ms. Pazienza that began when she and her fiancé were eating an impromptu meal in a Manhattan park after having had several glasses of wine.
Ms. Pazienza grew irate upon being told that she would have to leave the park, which was about to close. She threw her dinner onto her fiancé, prosecutors have said, and stormed away.
Shortly thereafter, prosecutors have said, she encountered Ms. Gustern, who was across the street. Ms. Pazienza, who is 5-foot-7, strode over, cursed at Ms. Gustern and pushed her, causing her to hit her head either on a metal fence nearby or on the sidewalk. Ms. Pazienza later told her fiancé that she thought the older woman, who was 4-foot-11, “might have said something to her” but that she wasn’t sure, according to prosecutors.
Ms. Pazienza’s parents were present at the hearing, but left without answering questions from reporters.
A.J. Maier Gustern, 30, a grandson of Ms. Gustern who studied with her, said after the hearing on Wednesday that he had not forgiven Ms. Pazienza and that he would have liked to see the case go to trial or to see Ms. Pazienza receive a harsher sentence.
He described the effects of his grandmother’s death on him and her other students. “She was my best friend, my mentor,” said Mr. Gustern, who is from Colorado. “New York City was like a second home to me. So not only has Lauren taken a life; she’s taken away a second home, she’s taken away a voice teacher to myself and hundreds, if not thousands, of students. The impact she has had can’t be understood.”
He excoriated Ms. Pazienza for attacking his grandmother, noting that she had chosen a victim significantly smaller than herself.
“I hope you learn some empathy,” he said when asked what he would say to her, adding, “I just can’t believe what you’ve done.”
Jonah E. Bromwich covers criminal justice in New York, with a focus on the Manhattan district attorney’s office, state criminal courts in Manhattan and New York City’s jails. More about Jonah E. Bromwich
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