Published July 22. 2009 4:00AM Updated July 22. 2009 9:07AM
Protective orders were all that stood between Richard J. Shenkman and Nancy P. Tyler during the past three years as their contentious divorce sprouted into criminal charges and civil lawsuits in several Connecticut court jurisdictions.
Shenkman is accused of violating those written court orders on at least three occasions, most notably on July 7, when he allegedly kidnapped Tyler at gunpoint and held her hostage for 12 hours at his South Windsor home.
As the result of a rare court order issued Tuesday in New London, the former spouses now will be separated for the foreseeable future by the concrete walls and concertina wire of a state correctional institution.
Judge Susan B. Handy revoked Shenkman's $575,000 bond in arson and domestic violence cases pending in her court based on Shenkman's new arrests in the hostage incident. She said it was the first time she had entertained such a request in her 17 years on the bench. It was new ground, as well, for state's attorney Michael L. Regan and defense attorney Hugh F. Keefe.
Upon hearing the judge's ruling, Tyler, watching from a back row in the courtroom, hugged her daughter, Victoria.
"I'm extremely relieved for myself and my family," she said later. She said she has been terrified that Shenkman would make bail and come after her, since he has repeatedly threatened to kill her.
Shenkman, 60, had posted $550,000 bond after he was charged with torching Tyler's Niantic beach home in March 2007 and had posted an additional $25,000 bond when he was charged with forging Tyler's signature to obtain a loan. He has been held on $12.5 million bond since he gave himself up to police at the end of the daylong standoff July 7, but Tyler feared that Shenkman, whose legals bills have been financed by a wealthy brother, would once again post bond.
Shenkman appeared in court looking disheveled and unshaven, even though correction department spokesman Brian Garnett said he is being afforded the opportunity to shower and shave at the MacDougall Correctional Institution. Judge Handy told him twice to "turn around" as he scanned the courtroom, apparently in an effort to spot his ex-wife. For the rest of the day, correction officers, the victim advocate and an attorney intentionally blocked his view of Tyler and her family members.
Regan argued that a 1990 state law allows for holding a prisoner without bond if he has violated new laws, if somebody's life is endangered and if he faces a prison term of more than 10 years. Regan said that in 27 years as a prosecutor, he has never filed a bail-revocation motion.
"If the statute couldn't be used now, then when?" Regan said. "This to me is the most egregious action I have ever seen of an individual out on bond.
If Shenkman were to be released, Regan said, it would be a prison sentence for his ex-wife, who would have to go into hiding. He said Shenkman, because of his age and the lengthy prison term he faces, has "nothing to lose" if he is released on bond.
Defense attorney Keefe said that he had never had a client with a bond as high as Shenkman's, nor, in his decades of practice, has he ever argued against a bond-revocation motion. He said the state Constitution says all criminal defendants have the right to be released on bail with the exception, under some circumstances, of those accused in capital cases. He said Shenkman has not been convicted of any crimes and has no criminal record.
"The Constitution does not exempt Mr. Shenkman," he said. "It does not exempt defendants who are alleged to have committed crimes while out on bond."
He said Shenkman would likely remain in prison regardless of the court's decision.
Keefe objected when Regan submitted three exhibits to the judge, including the probable-cause documents from the South Windsor police, an arrest warrant from Hartford police and a 13-page statement that Tyler gave to police. Keefe said Shenkman did not have an opportunity to read the documents and that they contained hearsay and secondary evidence. Judge Handy recessed court to allow Shenkman to see the documents, but refused Keefe's request to remove Shenkman's handcuffs so he could turn the pages. She told Keefe to turn the pages for his client.
"I'm a lawyer, not a nurse," Keefe said.
Court resumed after Shenkman read the documents, and Keefe reiterated his objection on the basis that they contained hearsay and secondary evidence.
The judge admitted the documents, which describe how Shenkman allegedly kidnapped his ex-wife from a Hartford parking garage at gunpoint and took her to his South Windsor home. Tyler said Shenkman tormented her and threatened her throughout the day while making increasingly impossible demands of police negotiators. Tyler escaped by using her handcuffs to unscrew an eyebolt that held her to a basement wall. The house went up in flames, and Shenkman surrendered about an hour later.
Later, Keefe asked the judge to allow Shenkman to be uncuffed while in the court holding cell and Handy said she would "take it under advisement."
He also asked for a gag order on the attorneys in the case and Tyler, noting that she has appeared on national television in the past few days. He said he wanted his client to have a fair trial without the advance media exposure.
"Your request is denied," the judge said.
Handy also issued new protective orders barring Shenkman from having contact with Tyler and her children, Victoria and Peter, saying such orders were already in place in the New London cases but that she was issuing these orders at the request of Hartford judge David P. Gold.
Shenkman was scheduled to appear in court in Hartford today, but the case has been rescheduled. The new date was unavailable Tuesday afternoon. His next appearance in the New London case is on Sept. 1.