Shenkman's bail set at $12.5M in arraignment at Hartford Hospital

Television crews line the street across from the burned-out residence of Richard Shenkman in South Windsor on Wednesday.
Television crews line the street across from the burned-out residence of Richard Shenkman in South Windsor on Wednesday. DANA JENSEN/The Day

Richard J. Shenkman was arraigned in the emergency department of Hartford Hospital late Wednesday afternoon, handcuffed to a stretcher and surrounded by court personnel, correction officers, police officers, psychiatric staff and Superior Court Judge Bradford Ward.

Shenkman's bail was set at $12.5 million $10 million for charges related to incidents that took place Tuesday in Hartford, including first-degree kidnapping, and $2.5 million for holding his ex-wife, Nancy P. Tyler, hostage for nearly 12 hours before she escaped Tuesday night from the home they once shared on Tumblebrook Drive in South Windsor.

Shenkman, who is expected to be eventually released from the hospital into the custody of the state Department of Correction, is scheduled to appear July 14 in Superior Court in Hartford. He was placed on a suicide watch at the hospital.

Shenkman's attorney, Hugh Keefe, called the bail amount "ridiculous."

"It's clearly an unconstitutional figure," he said.

Keefe said his client had internal injuries and trouble breathing and had been fading in and out of consciousness. Medical staff, however, determined Shenkman was mentally alert enough for the proceeding to continue, Keefe said.

Shenkman, who allegedly set the South Windsor house on fire hours after Tyler's escape Tuesday night, remained in critical but stable condition Wednesday night. After he emerged from the burning home shortly after midnight Tuesday, he was charged with 11 crimes: first-degree arson, criminal violation of a protective order, first-degree threatening, first-degree unlawful restraint, interfering with an officer, second-degree breach of peace, reckless burning, inciting injury to persons and three counts of unlawful discharge of a firearm.

The Hartford charges include criminal possession of a firearm, first-degree reckless endangerment and violation of a protective order.

On Wednesday afternoon police said there was probable cause to also charge Shenkman with two counts of criminal attempted murder. Cmdr. Matthew Reed, a South Windsor police spokesman, said one count stemmed from threats Shenkman made against Tyler while the other was the result of threats Shenk man made against police.

"Suffice it to say, Mr. Shenkman will not be getting out of jail very soon," Keefe said.

Hostage negotiators learned that Shenkman had been planning the incident for eight months, according to a police report.

Investigation at the scene

On Tumblebrook Drive, the Hartford Police Department bomb squad finished its work at 3:30 p.m. Wednesday, having found no explosives around the perimeter of the house.

Shenkman had told police he had 65 pounds of explosives in the house, and police had observed wires on the exterior of the house that could have been connected to explosive devices.

Crews combed the rubble for signs of explosives, work that was expected to take hours. Investigators took photos from the bucket of a tower truck's ladder, which was extended over the site.

South Windsor police obtained a search warrant early Wednesday afternoon, and local investigators and the FBI bomb squad assisted. At about the same time, police allowed residents of Tumblebrook Drive to return to their homes and removed the barricades around the rubble at the site.

Reed declined to comment on the existence of a fireproof bunker in the basement of the home, which Shenkman said he had built and which enabled him to stay in the house as it burned. Reed said that even without such a bunker, Shenkman would have been able to stay below the flames and smoke in the lower level of the house before it started to collapse.

The lower level also contained a swimming pool, Reed said.

Police and SWAT teams fired only tear gas and smoke canisters into the house Tuesday night, Reed said, adding that none of the devices could have started a fire. He said flash guns were fired to distract Shenkman as gas canisters also were fired.

Police fired no live rounds at the house or at Shenkman, Reed said. He described the tear gas as "ineffective," as Shenkman remained in the house and fired repeatedly at officers before surrendering.

Investigators have not recovered the gun Shenkman allegedly fired during the first hour of the hostage incident and again while the house was on fire.

Firefighters returned to the site around 6 a.m. and again at noon Wednesday to extinguish hot spots.

Nancy Powell, who has lived behind the Shenkman house for the past eight years, said big tarps covered parts of the back of the house over the past few years and that neighbors could hear what sounded like construction noise.

"But it never looked like anything was being built," she said. "We would say, 'What is he doing back there?' "

Neighbors had heard rumors that Shenkman had a fireproof bunker in the basement, and they knew about the indoor swimming pool.

Two weeks ago, Powell and her husband saw Shenkman stringing wire in woods that separate his property from their own. She said she now believes he was planning Tuesday's events.

Another neighbor, Donald Wolff of Tumblebrook Drive, told police he saw Shenkman cutting pieces of metal pipe. Wolff's wife, Mary, drew a sketch of the interior of the house for police during the standoff.

j.grogan@theday.com

c.bessette@theday.com

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