Mother of slain Amherst boy testifies in favor of domestic violence law

CONCORD – Months after her active and well-loved 9-year-old son was gunned down by his father, Becky Ranes sat before five state senators Jan. 14, and tried to wring some good from her only child’s death.

The Senate Judiciary Committee heard testimony from Ranes, as well as law and domestic violence experts, about SB 318, which would establish domestic violence as its own statute. Supporters hope it will be dubbed Joshua’s Law, after Ranes’ son, Joshua Savyon, an Amherst resident, who was killed last August.

“I want to honor Joshua by helping improve laws that will help other families exposed to domestic violence. No other parent should have to endure losing a child this way,” Ranes said.

The Governor’s Commission on Domestic and Sexual Violence found that half the murders in New Hampshire from 2002-12, and 92 percent of the murder-suicides, were related to domestic violence.

Menahem “Muni” Savyon, 54, shot and killed Joshua and then himself on Aug. 11 during a supervised visit at the YWCA in Manchester.

Savyon had been ordered to have supervised visits with his son and to attend a batterer’s intervention program after being charged with threatening to kill Joshua and himself in Nashua on March 29, 2012, according to court documents.

New Hampshire is one of 15 states that doesn’t define domestic violence in its laws, according to Amanda Grady Sexton, policy director at the New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence. That coalition, the attorney general’s office, the state Department of Safety, the state Association of Chiefs of Police and the County Attorneys Association all support the bill.

Judiciary Committee member Sen. Donna Soucy, D-Manchester,
is the bill’s prime sponsor.

The bill, while establishing domestic violence as a crime in and of itself, won’t actually create any new offenses under New Hampshire law. Instead, it would categorize 11 existing offenses often committed by domestic abusers, such as assault and threatening, under the heading of domestic violence. Prosecutors would have an extra element to prove – the relationship between abuser and victim – to convict someone under the proposed law.

The law also would not change the penalties of any of the existing offenses. Instead, the change would allow judicial and law enforcement officials to better track which suspects have a proven history of domestic violence.

That is vital information for everything from bail recommendations and conditions to sentencing, according to Hillsborough County Attorney Patricia LaFrance, who testified Jan. 14.

LaFrance said treating domestic assault differently than simple assault committed by a stranger makes sense, because research clearly shows that domestic violence tends to be a pattern and escalates more than conflicts between strangers.

“If we find these offenders at the beginning stages and give them appropriate sentences or get them treatment, we are hopefully protecting victims not only at that point in time, but also down the road,” LaFrance said.

The only Nashua-area senator on the Judiciary Committee, Sen. Bette Lasky, D-Hollis, said she supports the bill and that it has a good deal of bipartisan support.

“I’m very much for it,” Lasky said. “I think it’s necessary, and it really doesn’t change our statutes. It just codifies them in a different way. I think that will make a difference, because domestic violence is different.”

Ranes said creating Joshua’s Law would help her son live on.

“My hope is that if what happened to my family makes people take a closer look at how we handle these situations, then something good will come out of this, and Joshua will live on in spirit by helping others who are suffering this silent crime.”

Joseph G. Cote can be reached at 594-6415 or