Hartford - Richard Shenkman, charged with kidnapping his ex-wife and threatening to kill her, alternately demanded that police get him a priest to say the last rites over her, a judge to remarry them, and, in jest, a pizza.
Jurors at Hartford Superior Court Tuesday listened to Shenkman make those demands on several hours' worth of recordings of conversations among Shenkman and a police dispatcher and two hostage negotiators on July 7, 2009, the day he allegedly kidnapped Nancy Tyler from a Hartford parking garage and held her hostage in his South Windsor home.
He is charged with first-degree kidnapping, violation of a protective order, carrying a pistol without a permit, two counts of second-degree threatening, first-degree threatening, third-degree assault, interfering with an officer, attempted assault of an officer and first-degree arson.
"I'm in charge!" Shenkman said throughout the course of that day and into the night. And again and again he said he was going to count to 10 and kill Tyler if police didn't get off his property.
On day two of his trial, the jury listened to recordings of Shenkman's conversations with South Windsor police dispatcher Krista Marchesseault, agent Michael J. Thompson, a South Windsor officer, and Detective Donald W. Skewes of the Vernon Police Department.
"She has to die," he told the dispatcher. "She has to die right now."
Shenkman, a short, pudgy man with a ponytail, held his face in his hands as the dispatcher played the recordings.
At one point, the dispatcher got to talk to Tyler. "Does he have a gun?" she asked Tyler.
"Yeah," Tyler said. "I'm handcuffed to a wall and he's got a gun to my head."
Then Shenkman fired the gun into the wall and said, "The next one's in your head."
Shenkman said he had a dozen demands, though he never got to the end of them. He told police they were to suppress all media coverage of the standoff. He demanded they get a marriage license from town hall and fax it to him. He said he wanted them to get the judge who had presided over their divorce to remarry him and Tyler. He said they should get a priest to administer last rites to Tyler.
Hugh Keefe, the attorney who is defending Shenkman and who has indicated that he will use an insanity defense, asked Marchesseault if she thought "Mr. Shenkman sounded completely out of control."
"He sounded like he wanted to make me believe he was out of control," replied Marchesseault, who has been a dispatcher for 23 years.
Would she say that Shenkman sounded "in layman's terms, 'crazy'?" Keefe asked.
"No," answered Marchesseault.
But the recordings revealed a man who veered between raging at the negotiators and boasting of how he had spent months equipping his house with security cameras, motion sensors and booby traps so it would explode if police tried anything.
"There are 65 pounds of explosives in this house," he told Thompson. "I'm in charge! You listen to me, pal. Understand? This is a suicide mission. Understand?"
And when Thompson tried to ask him a question, Shenkman cut him off: "I'm in charge! I ask the questions. The first thing is, you have to control the press. There is no press coverage. If I hear my name on the news, there will be consequences."
Then he told Thompson he wanted a marriage license.
"My wife and I want to get remarried," Shenkman said. "She's my rock here. She's my rock." And then, later, "I've got three years' worth of shit to work out with Nancy here. We need some quality time here."
And then, when Thompson told Shenkman he was working to meet his demands, Shenkman said, "Can you get me a pizza?"
"We can get you a pizza," Thompson said.
"That was a joke," Shenkman said. "We've got to have some humor here."
He then warned Thompson not to cut the power to his house because he had placed Tyler, with a noose around her neck, on a platform that would collapse if the power was cut off. And he repeatedly raged about a robot that police had sent to the front door with a phone so that negotiators might talk to Shenkman at the scene.
The robot got tangled in the cord on the phone and could not be removed from the doorstep.
On Tuesday Keefe asked Thompson if he knew that the robot was a ruse to lure Shenkman out in the open where snipers might pick him off.
Vicki Melchiorre, the senior assistant state's attorney prosecuting the case, objected, saying there was no evidence introduced to support that question.
Keefe then cited a report on the standoff prepared by the Capitol Region Emergency Services Team that showed snipers had been given a "shoot to kill" order.
Thompson testified that he was unaware of that.
Shenkman "fired" Thompson when Thompson lied to him about there being no charges if Tyler didn't want to press them.
Tuesday afternoon was consumed with listening to recordings of Shenkman's conversations with Skewes, most of them made after 8:30 in the evening, after Tyler had managed to escape and Shenkman was alone in the house.
Skewes testified that Shenkman told him he'd spent eight months preparing his house for the abduction. As the night dragged on, Shenkman demanded that he be allowed to talk to Tyler and that police rescue his dog from the side yard of the house.
"My dog is out there and I want you to rescue him before I blow the house up. Once you get him off the property, I'm blowing it up. We're going to have some fireworks here. We're going to have some fun," Shenkman said.
When Skewes told him that police would not risk their lives to rescue the dog, Shenkman said, "OK, well, then he's going to die. So be it."
Shenkman grew increasingly agitated as the night wore on and his demands weren't being met. Each time he asked about those demands, the negotiators would say, "We're working on it."
After Tyler's escape, police turned the power off, and Shenkman finally agreed that he would come out of the house if they turned the power back on. But when they did, he still wouldn't come out.
When Skewes asked him when he was coming out, Shenkman replied, "I'm working on it."
At 9:27 Shenkman told Skewes the house was on fire and he was going to stay in the house and die.
"Why do you need to do this?" Skewes asked.
"Because I'm in charge," Shenkman said. "I don't have to give you a reason."