A composed Nancy Tyler took the stand in Hartford Superior Court this morning and described in detail how her ex-husband, Richard Shenkman, kidnapped her from a Hartford parking garage and held her hostage in their South Windsor home while holding a gun to her head and threatening to kill her.
She is testifying on the third day of the trial in which Shenkman is charged with first-degree kidnapping and other charges stemming from the alleged incidents of July 7, 2009.
Under questioning by prosecutor Vicki Melchiorre, Tyler said that at one point police sent a robot up to the front door of the house. Shenkman saw it on the extensive security system he had installed around the house.
"Get it out of here or she will f--- die," Shenkman screamed over the phone to police, according to Tyler.
"He said, 'This it. I'm done with you. It's all over. We're going down into the bunker.'"
She said Shenkman began dragging her to the stairs leading down to the cellar. "I said, 'Richard, I don't want to die down there.'
"He said, 'I'm going to blow up the house from down there. We'll be in the bunker and survive,'" said Tyler, who added Shenkman had told her he had booby-trapped the house with 65 pounds of explosives.
During his cross-examination of Tyler, defense attorney Hugh Keefe began laying the groundwork for his defense that Shenkman, due to a mental illness, did not understand the wrongfulness of his conduct or could not control himself.
Tyler agreed that Shenkman was "acting crazy" when police refused some of his demands and "snapped" when he saw the robot coming up the sidewalk. She said he was also "frantic" during the incident and twice changed his shirt because it was soaked with sweat.
Tyler also testified that the 2009 incident, which ended with the burning of the South Windsor house, wasn't the first time she saw Shenkman become violent.
In 2000, she said, he backed her up against the wall and screamed at her during a dispute. In 2003, she said, he threw her across a room and tried to choke her when she suggested he sell his Mercedes to help pay for their daughter's college tuition.
Keefe also introduced a 2006 court document in which Tyler described Shenkman as "mentally unstable." She said in the document that he heard voices in the South Windsor house and threatened to kill himself. She said he flew into daily rages and would hyperventilate to the point that he would pass out. She said in the documents that she feared he would do something violent and that he threatened to destroy her. She admitted, though, that she had never seen Shenkman as agitated as he was on July 7, 2009.
But on questioning by prosecutor Melchiorre, Tyler said that on numerous occasions Shenkman told her "that the crazier he acted the more he got his way." She said she often gave in to his demands to stop him from getting angrier.
Judge Julia D. Dewey called a lunch break at 1:15 p.m. to decide whether or not to let Tyler answer a question by the prosecutor about what happened at the beach house in Niantic where Tyler once lived. Keefe is attempting to keep the fact that Shenkman was charged with arson in connection with a fire that destroyed the Niantic house in March 2007 from the jurors.
Earlier in her testimony Tyler had said that Shenkman had told her he had planned her abduction and kidnapping for the past eight months.
Once he had dragged to the basement, she said, Shenkman handcuffed her to an eyebolt in the wall of a room she once used to store Christmas ornaments.
"I was screaming, 'Please don't chain me up down here.' He was worse than ever. He was screaming at the police, 'Get the f--- robot out of here or she will die.'"
She said he then made her talk to police, who asked if he had a gun.
"He then said, 'Yeah, I have a gun,' and fired a shot into the wall," one of several she said he fired next to her that day.
She said an enraged Shenkman then ran upstairs.
Meanwhile, she said, she had begun to loosen the eyebolt and was able to yank it out of the wall.
"I thought, 'This is it. I have a chance. I have to go.'" She said when she ran to a door to leave she worried that it might blow up.
"I thought, 'Either I die with a gun to my head or I die at the door.'"
She said she then ran out a door in the basement and across the yard where a SWAT officer brought her to safety in a neighbor's garage.
Late this afternoon Day reporter Karen Florin took the stand and described the four phone calls Shenkman made to her from the South Windsor house during the standoff.
Florin, who had spoken to Tyler and Shenkman on numerous occasions when their company represented the Eastern Pequots said Shenkman told her that day he wanted "to set the record straight."
Florin said she was aware of what happened in South Windsor before Shenkman called.
"I said, 'Richard, do you have a gun?'" He said "yes," Florin recalled.
She said she then asked Shenkman what had happened on the streets of Hartford that morning but he said he did not want to get into it.
Florin then asked Shenkman if he would hurt Tyler and he said he would not but the police would.
Shenkman said he wanted to end his life and wanted Nancy to walk out of the house but that he didn't trust the cops. He also told Florin that he wanted a "normal divorce" but Tyler did not want one.
Florin also testified that she was aware of the ongoing divorce proceedings between Tyler and Shenkman and had attended some of those proceedings and "associated court actions."
The latter was a reference to the charges that Shenkman faced in connection with the burning down of the Niantic house, something about which the judge has so far barred any testimony.
Court has recessed for the day and will reconvene at 2 p.m. Thursday.