Published January 05. 2012 4:00AM Updated January 05. 2012 2:25PM
Hartford - As he shuffled into the courtroom Wednesday for his sentencing, a shackled Richard Shenkman loudly dropped a file on the defense table and sat down in a chair.
He quickly turned and gazed around the courtroom until he spotted his ex-wife Nancy Tyler, who, in July 2009, he kidnapped and threatened to kill in their South Windsor home. When she escaped, he burned the house to the ground.
He smiled broadly, held up his shackled hands and waved at Tyler and her supporters, who had come to see him sentenced to prison for the rest of his life.
An hour later, just before he would be sentenced to 70 years in prison, the 62-year-old Shenkman told Hartford Superior Court Judge Julia Dewey that he had hired an experienced assassin to gun down Tyler, and there was nothing she could do to stop him.
"No one in a black robe will stop me from having Nancy Tyler killed," he said.
He told Dewey that he will have made his point when Tyler's lifeless body is lying on a slab in the medical examiner's office and two hollow-point bullets are being dug out of her head. He said the case will result in new domestic violence legislation being named in Tyler's memory.
Shenkman and Tyler once ran a branch office of their public relations firm, Prime Media, in New London and planned public events, including the New London celebration of OpSail 2000. They also represented the Eastern Pequot Indians during the tribe's federal recognition efforts. The couple owned a cottage in Niantic that Shenkman is accused of setting on fire in 2007. That case is pending.
In what veteran court observers, including Shenkman's attorney Hugh Keefe, called one of the most bizarre sentencing statements they had ever witnessed, Shenkman went on to tell Dewey how he has hired someone to kill Tyler. If that is true, then Shenkman admitted to committing a capital felony, which is punishable by death.
Shenkman told Dewey he previously had helped the assassin by stashing evidence from the man's previous murder and driving him out of state.
While the man gave Shenkman the murder evidence to discard, Shenkman said he instead put it in a Ziploc bag and hid it in a safe place. He said he is now using the location of that evidence to blackmail the assassin into killing Tyler.
Shenkman said he has given a letter detailing the location of the evidence to a friend and stashed away a large sum of money. He said that if the assassin is successful in killing Tyler by a specified deadline, he will receive the letter revealing the location of the evidence as well as the money.
Shenkman said that if Tyler moves out of state or tries to change her identity to elude the assassin, three of Tyler's relatives would be alternate targets. He said he hoped there would be "no collateral damage" from the shooting.
Shenkman said the assassin is someone Tyler had met with him in 2003.
"Little did she know that someday he would stalk and kill her," he said.
He said the state has never encountered anyone as ruthless and deranged as he is, and killing Tyler gives his life a purpose while he rots in prison.
Shenkman told Dewey that Tyler is to blame for divorcing him.
"In July of 2006, she declared war. She fired the first shot in the 'War of the Tylers,'" he said.
After listening to his client, Keefe told Dewey that Shenkman's comments were further proof that Shenkman is seriously mentally ill and could not assist in his defense.
He characterized Shenkman as having "gone off the reservation."
Before Wednesday's sentencing began, Dewey rejected a motion by Keefe to delay Shenkman's sentencing on the basis of mental incompetence, saying there was no evidence he is incompetent. Keefe had argued that Shenkman's mental condition had deteriorated since his October trial, when he was found guilty. At the trial, a jury rejected Shenkman's defense that he was insane at the time of the incident and was not guilty by reason of mental disease or defect.
Keefe said Dewey had made errors at Shenkman's trial, including not telling the jury that if they found Shenkman insane, he would spend many years at the Whiting Forensic Institute, a secure state facility for the criminally insane. He said he planned to appeal Shenkman's conviction.
Before she sentenced Shenkman, Dewey told him he could never be rehabilitated and that he had engaged in a "premeditated and calculated effort" to harass and intimidate Tyler.
She called Shenkman's conduct "outrageous," referred to him as obstinate, narcissistic and self-centered, and said that he's been "a nasty little boy his whole life," something Shenkman had called himself in a document she reviewed.
"There is no evidence you've ever given back to society in any way. It's always been about you."
In addition to the 70 years in prison, Dewey ordered Shenkman to pay $35,000 to the various police agencies that responded to the incident and $100,000 to Tyler.
Shenkman laughed when he heard the latter amount.
Dewey also barred Shenkman from having any contact with Tyler, her family, friends or co-workers.
At one point, when Shenkman interrupted Dewey, she told Keefe to get his client under control. That's when Keefe told him to shut up.
After the sentencing, Senior Assistant State's Attorney Vicki Melchiorre, who had asked Dewey to sentence Shenkman to the rest of his life in prison so he could not resume his war against Tyler or anyone close to her, said Shenkman had gotten what he deserved.
"He's pathetic," Melchiorre said.
Before Shenkman revealed his plot, Tyler calmly addressed Dewey and asked her to impose the maximum sentence of 80 years. Still, she said, she and her family will never be safe because Shenkman will continue his war against them from prison.
"Mr. Shenkman wanted to destroy me for having the audacity to file for divorce," she said, adding that he has continued his relentless campaign from prison.
She said that twice since his October conviction, state police had contacted her to say he had threatened to kill her and she should take precautions.
"Now that he is in jail, he has nothing to lose. There's nothing to stop him from taking that final step in his war," she said. "For Mr. Shenkman, this will never stop. Every day he will dream up a new line of attack. We will never be safe."
Tyler's law partner Michael Rigg struggled to retain his composure during his remarks to Dewey, saying his office has again begun locking its doors because of Shenkman's threats.
He said he regrets not accompanying Tyler to court on the day Shenkman kidnapped her at gunpoint outside their Hartford office because that may have stopped the incident.
The incident occurred on the day Shenkman was supposed to appear before a judge handling his and Tyler's divorce. On that day, he was either to pay Tyler for her share of the house or vacate the premises so it could be sold.
"I ask the court not to make the same mistake I made in underestimating Mr. Shenkman," he said.
Also addressing Dewey were Tyler's son Peter, who said he called Shenkman dad for 18 of his 22 years, and South Windsor Police Chief Matthew Reed, who described the 13-hour standoff Shenkman had with 100 officers, who - along with firefighters - feared Shenkman had booby trapped the yard with bombs.
"In the post 9-11 world, it was an event of terroristic proportions," he said.