Mother of slain 9-year-old pushes to make domestic violence its own crime
Becky Ranes, right, gets a hug from her aunt Martha Hongisto after testifying before a Senate Judiciary Committee about a bill making domestic violence a crime on Tuesday, January 14, 2014. Rane's nine-year-old son Joshua was killed last August in a murder-suicide that resulted from a long domestic dispute.
(ARIANA van den AKKER / Monitor staff)
Becky Ranes, holds a photo of her son Joshua Savyon, who was killed in a murder-suicide last August that resulted from a domestic dispute, before she testified before a Senate Judiciary Committee regarding a bill making domestic violence a crime on Tuesday, January 14, 2014. Joshua was nine years old at the time.
(ARIANA van den AKKER / Monitor staff)
The mother of a 9-year-old boy who was shot and killed by his father last year shared her story with a Senate committee yesterday to push for a bill that would establish domestic violence as its own crime under state law.
“By calling this crime what it is, I know that we can help the courts and police officers make better informed decisions to put the safety of our children and victims of domestic violence first,” said Becky Ranes of Amherst.
Ranes’s son, Joshua Savyon, was killed by his father during a court-supervised visit at the Manchester YWCA in August. After killing his son, Muni Savyon killed himself. The father had previously threatened Ranes, and she had a protective order against him.
Domestic violence offenders like Muni Savyon are not currently charged with domestic violence under state law. Law enforcement officials told the Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday that a specific category of crime for domestic violence would help judges, prosecutors and victims’ advocates keep families safe.
The bill considered yesterday does not add new crimes to New Hampshire law. Instead, it regroups existing crimes into a domestic violence category if they were committed against a family member, intimate partner or member of the defendant’s household.
A person who attacks a stranger in a bar and a person who attacks a spouse would currently be charged with the same crime of assault, said Sen. Donna Soucy, a Manchester Democrat and the bill’s sponsor.
“That is why we need to make domestic violence a crime, because we know these are very different situations,” Soucy said. “And we know that, down the line, these (domestic violence) situations can lead to escalation.”
The proposed bill would not change penalties for domestic violence crimes. But it would help the police better respond to an emergency situation and research an individual’s criminal background, said Deputy Attorney General Ann Rice.
“Unlike most crimes, an incident of domestic violence is rarely a one-time occurrence,” Rice said. “Research has made it abundantly clear that domestic violence involves a cycle of violence and the severity of abuse . . . escalates over time.”
Ranes told her own story of escalating abuse during her tearful testimony yesterday, with a framed photo of her son positioned on the table beside her. She said Muni Savyon first threatened her in March 2012, saying he had a gun and was ready to kill her, or both Joshua and himself. He carried out the murder-suicide Aug. 11.
“The threat to kill us was real,” Ranes said. “The attempts to kill us were real. We lived each day with fear.”
Ranes acknowledged that the domestic violence law may not have saved her son, who loved school, rock collecting and martial arts. But she hopes it could make a difference for other families.
Advocates for victims of domestic violence packed the committee room yesterday, wearing bright stickers that said “Joshua’s law” – the bill’s sponsors have asked that the law be named after Joshua Savyon if it is passed.
New Hampshire is one of 15 states without a separate crime for domestic violence. Rice said 50 percent of homicides and 93 percent of murder-suicides in New Hampshire are domestic violence-related.
Earl Sweeney, assistant commissioner of the state Department of Safety, said law enforcement’s view of domestic violence has evolved and called the bill “long overdue.”
Domestic violence is already defined under state law. But law enforcement officials testified yesterday that crimes like assault or threatening are not always specified as domestic violence when criminal records are reviewed by judges and police officers.
The state now relies on judges to fill out a form about domestic violence when an offender is sentenced, but prosecutors and police officers said yesterday that system is not always effective.
“Currently there is just no way to accurately and consistently identify a crime as domestic violence,” said Hillsborough County Attorney Patricia LaFrance. “It is so important that I am able to have that information so that I can relay it to a judge when asking for bail.”
Crimes would include causing injury, threatening with a deadly weapon, threatening physical force, violating a protective order by threatening or physical force.
Most domestic violence charges would be Class A misdemeanors; if the incident involved a deadly weapon it would be a felony-level offense.
The bill would not further limit offenders’ access to guns, advocates said yesterday, because federal law already governs gun ownership requirements and requires states to report criminal records to the federal government.
“This is a tool that we need to distinguish crimes of domestic violence from crimes against nonintimate partners and nonfamily members,” said Amanda Grady Sexton, public policy director for the New Hampshire Coalition against Domestic and Sexual Violence. “And until we pass this law, we will not be able to effectively coordinate our community responses to victims and their children.”
Only one person spoke against the bill at yesterday’s public hearing; Chris Booth of Concord argued that it would not actually decrease crime in New Hampshire.
The Senate Judiciary will vote on the bill before it goes to the full Senate later this year.