NEW YORK, NY – Lauren Pazienza, a 27-year-old event planner from Long Island, has been sentenced to eight-and-a-half years in prison for the fatal assault of Broadway vocal coach Barbara Maier Gustern. The incident occurred in March of last year when Pazienza, under the influence of alcohol and drugs, forcefully pushed the 87-year-old Gustern on a Chelsea sidewalk. The attack was unprovoked and occurred while Pazienza was celebrating the 100-day countdown to her wedding.
Pazienza, who had been detained at Rikers Island for over a year following the assault, wept as her sentence was announced. The sentence was part of a plea deal in which she was found guilty of first-degree manslaughter. Had she chosen to go to trial, she could have faced up to 25 years in prison.
Gustern, who was only 4ft 11ins tall, succumbed to severe head injuries five days after the assault. Pazienza, who did not know Gustern, had reportedly crossed the street to verbally abuse and then physically assault the elderly woman.
Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg expressed his hope that the conclusion of the legal proceedings would provide some closure for Gustern’s grieving family and community. Gustern had been a beloved figure in the Broadway community, having taught notable singers such as Debbie Harry, the lead singer of Blondie. Harry had previously criticized Pazienza’s plea deal as a failure to administer adequate punishment.
Prior to the attack, Pazienza had been drinking wine and possibly consumed Xanax while celebrating her upcoming wedding with her fiancé. After being asked to leave Chelsea Park due to its closing time, she allegedly became enraged and attacked Gustern.
Following the assault, Pazienza attempted to evade authorities by quitting her job, deleting her social media accounts, and hiding her cell phone at her aunt’s house in Long Island. She eventually turned herself in to the NYPD after they released footage of her as a suspect in the attack.