Ex-wife testifies in Conn. hostage-arson case

AP News
Posted: Oct 05, 2011 5:40 PM
Ex-wife testifies in Conn. hostage-arson case

A Connecticut woman testified Wednesday that as her ex-husband held her hostage for a dozen hours in a home they once shared, he fired a handgun near her head twice, prepared a noose for her and claimed to have rigged the house with explosives.

Nancy Tyler took the witness stand in Hartford Superior Court on the third day of the trial of ex-husband Richard Shenkman, a former advertising executive who is charged with kidnapping, assault, arson and other crimes. His lawyer is pursuing an insanity defense, but Tyler testified that Shenkman would act "crazy" at times to get his way.

Tyler, a civil litigation attorney, described how Shenkman kidnapped her at gunpoint from a downtown Hartford parking garage just before they were due in court for another hearing related to their bitter divorce, then made her drive about 9 miles away to the house in South Windsor. Shenkman was supposed to pay Tyler about $180,000 that day or turn over the house to her so she could sell it.

Tyler managed to escape without serious injury by unscrewing an eyebolt in a basement wall to which she was handcuffed while Shenkman was upstairs checking on a police robot that had been sent to the front door. She described the terror she felt as Shenkman forced her into what he called "the bunker."

"I said, `Richard, don't make me go down there. I don't want to die down there,'" Tyler testified.

She said she was also worried she was going to have another heart attack. She had one when she was 40 years old, a few months before meeting Shenkman, whom she married in 1993.

Shenkman, 62, who had handcuffed himself to Tyler during the standoff with 80 to 100 police outside, later handcuffed her to the eyebolt.

"I was screaming at this point, `Please don't! Please don't, Richard! Don't chain me up down here!" Tyler testified.

She said Shenkman later fired his handgun about a foot from her head into a basement wall, after having earlier fired it near her head into a wall in the kitchen upstairs. When Shenkman left the basement to check on the robot, Tyler said she tried to unscrew the eyebolt.

"It started loosening," she said. "I thought, `This is it. I have another chance.'"

Tyler said she got free and ran to a basement door, but worried it was rigged with explosives. She decided to try anyway, and she ran out into the yard where a police SWAT team member helped her to safety.

After she knew she was safe, Tyler said, "I just breathed for a while."

Tyler described how Shenkman became increasingly enraged at police during the ordeal for not meeting his demands, which included taking the robot away, having a priest administer Tyler last rites and having authorities fax over a marriage license so he and Tyler could get remarried.

Under cross-examination by Shenkman's lawyer, Hugh Keefe, Tyler acknowledged that Shenkman acted "crazy" at times during the ordeal. She also testified that his behavior had been erratic in the past, including several threats to kill himself and claims that he heard voices in the house. Tyler also said Shenkman often claimed, but had no proof, that he had cancer.

Tyler testified that while handcuffed to Shenkman, he forced her hand inside the front of his pants to try to show her he had testicular cancer, but she didn't feel any evidence of the disease.

Prosecutor Vicki Melchiorre later asked Tyler to elaborate on Shenkman's behavior.

"He is acting crazy to get his way," Tyler responded. She added that Shenkman once told her that he had learned that he could get his way if he acted crazy.

Tyler filed for divorce in 2006, and she said Shenkman often told her that he couldn't live without her. A judge approved the divorce in 2008, but the case continued as Shenkman appealed. During the standoff, Tyler said Shenkman told her that she had taken everything from him, he had nothing left to live for and he "had no choice but to destroy me."

Tyler was awarded the couple's beach house in East Lyme as part of the divorce. But police say Shenkman burned it down in 2007 just hours before he was to hand it over to Tyler. Shenkman awaits trial on an arson charge in that case.

On Wednesday, Melchiorre tried to get Tyler to testify about what happened to the beach house after Keefe brought it up during cross-examination. But Judge Julia DiCocco Dewey ruled without the jury present that the earlier fire was too prejudicial against Shenkman to be mentioned in the kidnapping case.

Shenkman, whose brother, Mark Shenkman, is founder and president of one of the nation's largest money management firms, Shenkman Capital Management, is not expected to testify during the trial, which resumes Thursday afternoon.