January 10. 2014 7:59PM

Slain boy's mom leads push to create crime of domestic violence

State House Bureau

Joshua Savyon, 9, was shot to death by his father in a supervised visit at the Manchester YWCA. His mother, Becky Ranes, will testify next week in favor of a bill establishing a separate crime of domestic violence in the state.. (courtesy)

CONCORD — The mother of a nine-year-old boy murdered by his father in a Manchester visitation center last August will testify next week in favor of a bill that will establish domestic violence as a crime in New Hampshire.

Nine-year-old Joshua Savyon was shot and killed by his father, Muni Savyon, during a court-ordered supervised visit. Muni had threatened both Joshua and his mother's lives and was under a domestic violence protective order that had been mistakenly allow to expire.

Tuesday, Joshua's mother, Becky Ranes, will testify in favor SB 318, which would establish the crime of domestic violence.

The bill would not change existing state laws that usually apply to domestic violence crimes, but would group the statutes in one new section.

Amanda Grady Sexton of the New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence said the proposal sponsored by Sen. Donna Soucy, D-Manchester, and both Democratic and Republican senators and representatives, would help the state's law enforcement and criminal justice systems properly identify instances of domestic violence.

"While New Hampshire has adequate civil protections for victims, it is one of just 15 states in the country that does not have a crime of domestic violence," Grady Sexton said. "Because of this, violent offenders go unrecognized as abusers and some victims aren't even aware that what they are experiencing is in fact domestic violence."

There is a significant difference between a man who punches his wife in their home and someone who hits his friend in a bar fight yet they would be charged with the same crime of simple assault, she said.

"Statistics show that the intimate nature of the domestic violence situation carries a potential risk for escalated criminal behavior and homicide, while the bar fight typically does not," Grady Sexton said.

The bill has caught the attention of gun rights advocate who see it as an attempt to limit access to firearms, but Grady Sexton said change would not affect existing gun rights.

"I hope this doesn't turn into a gun rights bill," she said, "because it's not."

Bob Clegg, president of Pro Gun NH, said "domestic violence is a problem and we're not against making it a crime."

While he had just received a copy of the bill, he said he believes the definition of intimate relationship needs to be clarified.

"Just because I held a girl's hand in high school and kissed, and she is now a criminal and breaks into my house," Clegg said "I don't want to lose my guns if I punch her."

He said people are just beginning to study the bill and its implications, and he noted it could pass the Senate before anyone can mount a case against it.

Creating the domestic violence crime helps clarify who would be prohibited under federal law from buying a gun, Grady Sexton said.

Federal law targets those convicted of misdemeanors involving physical force or the threatened use of deadly force against family members or those who have been in "intimate relationships."

But Grady Sexton said some people who do not belong on the federal registry or National Instant Criminal Background Check System Index are on it and some who should be are not.

By establishing the domestic violence crime, it is much clearer who should be on the registry, she said.

This bill will not create a mandate, Grady Sexton said, as prosecutors will still have discretion to determine charges that bets fit each case.

The bill has the backing of the Attorney General's Office, the Department of Safety, the N.H. Association of Chiefs of Police, Child and Family Services, N.H. County Attorneys Association, N.H. Legal Assistance and the N.H. Sheriff's Association.

The public hearing will be held on the bill at 10:30 a.m. Tuesday in Room 100 of the State House before the Senate Judiciary Committee.