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Wedding planner charged with killing 86-year-old man in tantrum over dinner with fiancé

A 26-year-old American woman accused of shoving an 86-year-old vocal coach to death did so in a tantrum that began when she was kicked out of a parc fermé while having dinner with her fiancé, have prosecutors announced Tuesday.

Lauren Pazienza spent the night of March 10 browsing the galleries with her fiancé in Manhattan to celebrate 100 days until their wedding, the fiancé told authorities, according to a court document.

Watch the video above to see the moment Pazienza was initially released on bail

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Pazienza drank “several glasses of wine” during the evening before the couple stopped at a food cart to eat something, according to the document filed by the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office.

The couple went to Chelsea Park for their meal, but before they were done, an employee told them they would have to leave because the park was closing, according to the document. Chelsea Park closes at 11 p.m.

“The defendant got angry, started shouting and insulting the park employee, threw her food at her fiancé and stormed out of the park,” prosecutors said.

NEW YORK, NY – NOVEMBER 2: Lauren Pazienza attends AVENUE Magazine’s 40th Anniversary Party at Michael”u2019s on November 2, 2015 in New York City. (Photo by Patrick McMullan/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images) Credit: Patrick McMullan/Patrick McMullan via Getty Image

Pazienza’s fiancé told police he had packed up and intended to return to their apartment in Queens because he didn’t know where she had been.

Meanwhile, Pazienza “stormed” down the street and spotted Barbara Maier Gustern, prosecutors said.

Gustern, “in what turned out to be his last words” before he lost consciousness, told a friend that a black-haired woman “ran down the straight line”, straight at her, called her a bitch and pushed her as hard as she had “never been hit in her life” against a metal fence, prosecutors said.

Gustern, according to a witness, “fell in an arc, falling directly on her head,” according to the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office.

Pazienza “turned around and walked away, leaving Ms. Gustern lying on the sidewalk, bleeding from her head,” prosecutors said.

Barbara Maier Gustern, 86-year-old vocal coach.
Barbara Maier Gustern, 86-year-old vocal coach. Credit: Facebook

Pazienza, prosecutors noted, weighs 80 kg, while Gustern weighed less than 45 kg at the time of his death.

Gustern was helped back to her apartment by the witness, but by the time she arrived at the hospital her brain had swollen so much she was incoherent.

She died five days later.

The medical examiner said the fatal injury was caused by “substantial force”.

After the attack, Pazienza called her fiancé, he told authorities.

When they reconnected, she got into a physical fight with him, accusing him of ruining her night, prosecutors said.

He insisted the two go home, but surveillance video from the area showed Pazienza had stayed in the area long enough to watch the ambulance arrive for Gustern.

She later told her fiancé what she had done, he told authorities.

When he asked her why she would do such a thing, she said the woman “could have said something to him”.

Lauren Pazienza fled to her aunt's house as the police began to close in.
Lauren Pazienza fled to her aunt’s house as the police began to close in. Credit: DCPI

Pazienza was charged in an indictment by the New York State Supreme Court on Tuesday with first-degree manslaughter and second-degree assault, according to Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg. She pleaded not guilty.

Pazienza’s attorney, Arthur Aidala, who previously represented Harvey Weinstein and Rudy Giuliani, did not respond to a request for comment on Wednesday.

Prosecutors, revealing additional details about the night of the attack and the days that followed, asked that Pazienza be held without bail.

Jail records show she is being held at the Rose M. Singer Center in Rikers, without bond. She is then due to appear in court on July 26.

Prosecutors argued that Pazienza posed a flight risk because she had eluded police for more than a week, despite constant media coverage and pleas from Gustern’s relatives to turn herself in.

Jail records show she is being held at the Rose M. Singer Center in Rikers, without bond.  She is then due to appear in court on July 26.
Jail records show she is being held at the Rose M. Singer Center in Rikers, without bond. She is then due to appear in court on July 26. Credit: Tumblr / @lpazienz

She deleted her wedding website and all of her social media accounts, nearly erasing herself from the internet.

After learning of Gustern’s death, she hid in her parents’ home on Long Island, hiding her phone at her aunt’s house so the police couldn’t find it.

Later, she also fled to her aunt’s house as the police began to close in. After visiting her parents’ home on March 19, Pazienza surrendered.

“After allegedly walking away from Ms Gustern as she was bleeding on the floor, Lauren Pazienza went to great lengths to avoid accountability for her actions,” Bragg said.

Pazienza initially posted $500,000 bond. Prosecutors argued she could do it again and run away.

Prosecutors say all the evidence shows the push was “intentional”.

Lauren Pazienza, 26, of Port Jefferson, NY, who was arrested in the death of an 87-year-old Broadway singing coach, arrives at court in New York on Tuesday, March 22, 2022. Pazienza is handed down to face a manslaughter charge in the death of Barbara Maier Gustern, which police say was the result of
Lauren Pazienza, 26, of Port Jefferson, NY, who was arrested in the death of an 87-year-old Broadway singing coach, arrives at court in New York on Tuesday, March 22, 2022. Pazienza is returned to face a manslaughter charge in the death of Barbara Maier Gustern, which police say was the result of “an unprovoked and senseless attack”. (AP Photo/Richard Drew) Credit: Richard Drew/PA

They are asking for a 15-year prison sentence, but say Pazienza could face up to 25 years on the manslaughter charge alone.

“It was a senseless, unprovoked attack,” Bragg said.

“Barbara Gustern was a beloved vocal coach who lived a vibrant and active life at the age of 87, and her loss was deeply felt by many across the city.”