HARTFORD, Conn. – A former advertising executive who once had ties to the "Gayle King Show" was convicted Tuesday of kidnapping his ex-wife, holding her hostage for nearly 12 hours and burning down the Connecticut home they used to share.
The jury in Hartford Superior Court convicted 62-year-old Richard Shenkman of all charges. His ex-wife testified that Shenkman, who could face the rest of his life in prison, fired a handgun near her head, prepared a noose and claimed to have rigged the house with explosives as police surrounded it.
The standoff ended when Shenkman came out of the burning home and pointed a handgun at his head. Police subdued him and took him into custody. Shenkman's lawyer mounted an insanity defense, but the prosecutor argued that Shenkman was just acting mentally ill to avoid prison.
Shenkman, who didn't testify, has been detained since his arrest. He is the brother of Mark Shenkman, founder and president of one of the nation's largest money management firms, Shenkman Capital Management. His former advertising firm, Primedia, once produced the former "Gayle King Show," starring Oprah Winfrey's best friend.
In 2009, police said Shenkman kidnapped his ex-wife, attorney Nancy Tyler, from a downtown Hartford parking garage at gunpoint and forced her to drive about nine miles to the South Windsor home they once shared.
Authorities said Shenkman and Tyler were due in court for a divorce-related hearing later that morning, and he was supposed to turn over the house to her or face jail time for contempt of court.
Tyler testified at the trial about her harrowing ordeal, saying Shenkman fired a handgun twice near her head, prepared a noose for her and claimed to have rigged the house with explosives as swarms of police surrounded the home. Tyler had called a friend on her cell phone in concern over seeing Shenkman's minivan near her Hartford office and urged her to call police just before she was kidnapped.
Tyler said that Shenkman handcuffed her to an eyebolt in a basement wall at one point, and that she managed to unscrew the bolt and run outside when Shenkman went upstairs to check on police activity.
Shenkman talked on the phone to dispatchers and police officers several times during the crisis. The jury listened to the recorded conversations, in which Shenkman sometimes sounded frantic, screamed and several times counted down the seconds to his threatened killing of Tyler.
Police testified that the nearly 15-hour standoff ended when Shenkman came out of the burning home and pointed a handgun at his head. Minutes later, officers shot Shenkman with rubber bullets and used a stun gun on him twice before subduing him and taking him into custody.
Shenkman and Tyler married in 1993 and she filed for divorce in 2006. A judge approved the divorce in 2008, but court proceedings continued as Shenkman appealed.
His lawyer, Hugh Keefe, called to the witness stand two prominent psychiatrists who evaluated Shenkman after the standoff and agreed that he was psychotic. Keefe also disputed the arson charge, suggesting that police caused the fire when they fired gas canisters into the house.
But prosecutor Vicki Melchiorre told the jury that Shenkman was just acting mentally ill to avoid prison and insisted he started the fire. She said Shenkman kidnapped Tyler and burned down the uninsured home because he was upset she filed for divorce and he didn't want her to have the house.
"Fear of going to jail is not psychotic," Melchiorre said, "especially when you're a 60-year-old, short, out-of-shape guy with an annoying disposition. It's not something that would make him popular in jail."
Tyler also testified that Shenkman had learned before the kidnapping that he could get his way in many situations if he acted crazy.
Shenkman also awaits trial on another arson charge connected to the burning of his and Tyler's beachfront home in East Lyme in 2007, just hours before he was to hand it over to her as part of the divorce.