CONCORD — The mother of a 9-year-old boy shot and killed by his father told lawmakers Tuesday the state needs to establish domestic violence as a crime.
"Words cannot express how much I miss him," Becky Ranes of Amherst said of her son as she testified in favor of Senate Bill 318. "Today I speak for Joshua."
Joshua Savyon, was killed by his father, Muni Savyon, during a court-ordered supervised visit last August at a Manchester YWCA visitation center. Muni Savyon, who turned the gun on himself, was under a domestic violence protective order because he had threatened to kill both Joshua and Ranes.
The bill's prime sponsor, Sen. Donna Soucy, D-Manchester, said there is a significant difference between a bar fight and violence within a household, yet the perpetrators are charged with the same crime. She said the bill would not change existing law or enhance penalties, but would bring them under a new umbrella, while increasing due-process rights and retaining law enforcement discretion.
Supporters said the bill mirrors the federal domestic violence law and requires prosecutors to prove the incident involves family or household members or those in an intimate relationship.
Law enforcement representatives said the bill would clarify what is and what is not domestic violence — critical information for prosecutors and judges during arraignments for setting bail or release conditions.
"Right now there is no way to tell if he is a serial domestic violence abuser," said Hillsborough County Attorney Patricia LaFrance, "or if he gets in a lot of bar fights. That is important information."
She said making it a separate crime will allow for early intervention either through treatment or jail, and halt the pattern of escalating violence that often occurs.
Franklin Police Chief David Goldstein represented the NH Association of Chiefs of Police at the hearing.
"What heinous act could a child commit to result in his death at the hands of his father," Goldstein asked. "Not many bills have such far-reaching implications. This bill gives us a singular opportunity to save lives."
Deputy Attorney General Anne Rice noted New Hampshire has been a leader in domestic violence law, but the state is one of 15 that has not established the crime of domestic violence.
Rice noted domestic violence is involved in half of the homicides committed in New Hampshire and 92 percent of the murder-suicides.
"An incident of domestic violence is rarely a one-time occurrence," Rice said. "Usually it involves a cycle of violence."
Ranes said she did not realize she had been subjected to domestic violence until she reported Muni Savyon's threats and was given a pamphlet about domestic violence.
"You don't have to be beaten or bruised to experience domestic violence. My family and I lived it every day," Ranes said. "The threat to kill us was real. The attempts to control us were real. We lived each day with fear."
She asked lawmakers to name the new law after her son.
The only person to speak against the bill was Christopher Booth of Concord, who said it would have no effect because it would not change people's lives.
The Senate Judiciary Committee did not make an immediate recommendation on the bill.