Opinion: On Keene Man’s Brutal Murder and Naming Domestic Violence Victims

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Armando Barron and Britany Barron (Cheshire County House Of Corrections)

By NANCY WEST, InDepthNH.org

InDepthNH.org’s Friday newsletter asked for your opinion on whether the names of alleged domestic violence victims should continue to be public information. The New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence posted that part of our newsletter on their Facebook page and directed their friends to “to tell (Nancy West) you do not support her decision to name victims of domestic and sexual violence,” although we do not publish the names of sexual assault victims and rarely publish domestic violence victims’ name. We mostly report about the government, not crime.

You can read Friday’s story that prompted the outcry here with link to all court records: http://indepthnh.org/2020/09/25/police-jaffrey-husband-killed-man-ordered-wife-to-behead-him/

We believe this is an important issue on its own, but especially because the Associated Press decided against publishing the name of Armando Barron, the Jaffrey man who is charged with shooting a man to death because naming him could identify his wife Britany Barron as a domestic violence victim because Armando allegedly beat her and ordered her to decapitate the man. Britany is charged with three counts of falsifying evidence. Our reporting above includes a link to all court records in the case. These are all allegations, mainly based on information Britany Barron told police. They both deserve a fair trial without people weighing in on what they think happened to Jonathan Amerault of Keene, the victim of a brutal homicide.

We started reporting this story because our veteran writer Paula Tracy was digging into Jonathan Amerault’s life before it was known that he was shot to death and beheaded. She loves the outdoors, the North Country and she loves people. As more details emerged in court records, Paula wanted to make sure Jonathan Amerault wasn’t just a name, the name of a murder victim.
Just as we were about to post her story about him, more information came to light about his death and we kept working on it Friday. We are proud of how Paula wrote about Jonathan as a hiker whose family and friends loved him.

I helped by including allegations from court records. As journalists, we have a responsibility to report the detailed facts as they are known at any given time.

A Celebration of Life will be held for Jonathan Amerault on Saturday, Oct. 3 at 1 p.m. on the Milford High School Track & Field, 100 West Street, Milford. (Rain date; Sunday October 4, at 1 p.m.) 

See his obituary here: https://www.legacy.com/obituaries/unionleader/obituary.aspx?n=jonathan-l-amerault&pid=196861529&fhid=3008

More will be learned as this case goes through the court system. You deserve to know those facts as they emerge through court records or independent reporting. We don’t sugar coat facts. We try simply to report the truth.

In the meantime, our hearts go out to the family and friends of Jonathan Amerault. We are reporters, but we are human beings, too. I can’t tell you how many domestic violence homicides Paula and I reported while we worked at the Union Leader. Too many. One is too many. One victim of any kind of domestic violence or any kind of violence is too many.

Unfortunately, I don’t believe limiting public information will end this scourge.

If I thought withholding the names of alleged domestic violence victims would put even a small dent in the number of cases, I would happily never publish a name again.

That is not where the problem lies in my opinion. We should be talking about what causes people to batter and what makes victims stay and what the government and all of us can do to finally make it stop. We need more information, not more secrets.

The Coalition has built a network of safe houses to help victims leave batters. The Coalition has done a lot of great work over the years, but times change. Now the Coalition seems more interested in doing the government’s bidding and in this case controlling the public message in a complicated case.

This isn’t the first time the Coalition has tried to bully InDepthNH.org or other news outlets into silence. No matter, we will still do our best to keep you informed.

We report news without fear or favor. This is New Hampshire. There is often politics behind the scenes.

Several of Gov. Chris Sununu’s employees responded to the Coalition’s Facebook post to criticize me, including his policy director D.J. Bettencourt, who is also chairman of Sununu’s Governor’s Economic Reopening Task Force. Sununu’s spokesmen Ben Vihstadt and Brandon Pratt also showed on Facebook they they agreed with the Coalition.

Bettencourt’s post said: “D.J. BettencourtWhat InDepth is doing is despicable but not surprising given that it’s Nancy West.”

I have asked for an apology from them and am filing a right-to-know request under RSA 91a and the New Hampshire Constitution for any records and communications between them, Sununu, the Attorney General’s Office and the Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence regarding InDepthNH.org in general and our story about the Barrons, our reporting and anything to do with this nonprofit news outlet.

The following is the post on the Coalition’s Facebook page and below that are the emails I received on this matter. https://www.facebook.com/nhcadsv

 After this story, please post comments on the Coalition’s Facebook or InDepthNH.org’s Facebook page, not to my email to make sure they become public.

The Coalition’s post: “Please email Nancy West of InDepth News at nancywestnews@gmail.com to tell her you do not support her decision to name victims of domestic and sexual violence. InDepth believes that publishing the names and personal information of survivors will somehow provide justice to victims. Survivors and advocates know this is not true.

“While InDepth continues its political campaign to convince other media outlets to join them in disclosing names of victims of domestic and sexual violence, and to revel in the most gruesome details of abuse cases, we know that great harm can be caused by these practices. That’s why the vast majority of media outlets don’t typically engage in these practices. Sometimes editors determine that special circumstances exist in which the right of the public to know a victim’s name does outweigh that victim’s right to safety and privacy. We don’t always agree with these decisions, but most outlets put great care into determining when and why they release names of victims and details of abuse in their stories.

“The bottom line: efforts to share unnecessary and personally identifying details under the guise of providing ‘just the facts’ might be great for website clicks and shares, but it shouldn’t be dressed up as some kind of holier-than-thou duty that must be performed for the public good – because in the end the only one who truly benefits is the publisher.

“InDepth’s policy to name every victim and every salacious and gruesome detail of the abuse is way out of line with best practices — and we encourage members of the public to let them know that they’re not interested in participating in efforts to put victims in further danger.”

New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/nhcadsv

InDepthNH.org’s Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/InDepthNH

Jonathan Amerault’s Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/mrjonnyames

Britany Barron’s Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/britany.barron

The following are emails I received:

Ruthann Adamsky – No, no, no!!!
Publishing the names of victims of domestic abuse harms them all over again.
It makes YOU just another instrument of their suffering.
No, no, no!
A thousand times…NO!
Ruthann Adamsky

Eileen Ehlers – You write a piece describing in gruesome detail the murder of a NH man and AGAIN you divulge the name of a DV victim and post her picture.  I adamantly object to your lack of professional journalism standards, your disregard for DV victim safety and privacy, your absent human decency.  You have set up yet another DV victim for judgement, harassment, criticism. SHAME on you. Eileen Ehlers Hooksett

Allison Morrill – While I agree that the death of the man from Keene was horrific, I do not believe naming the other victim from this tragic incident serves any purpose.  No one other than the court needs to know.  Justice is not served by splashing the name of a woman who was terrorized and will be traumatized for life, throughout the news.  That helps no one, and only makes the wounds from her abuser cut even deeper.  I will never support naming victims unless they choose to come forward.  There is a difference between journalism and sensationalism.  You chose the wrong one. Sincerely, Allison Morrill, Raymond NH

Johnna Grzywacz – All the details were important in your recent article. Thank you for bringing out the truth. Please write follow ups regarding this husband and wife team  Johnna Grzywacz

Dawn Farnham  (Madison NH 03849) – It is wrong to publicize the names of victims.  Why don’t you know this?  Dawn Farnham

Samantha Beaupre – Hi Nancy, I appreciate the journalistic integrity that comes with reporting facts, and all the facts, to provide the public the ability to have all accurate information. Most of the time, I’d agree it should be disclosed. However, disclosing the name of a domestic violence survivor, particularly one who was forced to commit a horrible crime, serves no purpose to the public. I gain nothing by knowing her name. In turn, she loses the ability to share her story on her terms. Domestic violence survivors are stripped of their free will on a daily basis, and releasing their names before they have a chance to tell their own story furthers that abuse. 

It opens the door for ridicule, doubt, and judgment from the public, which again serves no purpose but to further the abuse a survivor is already experiencing. Moreover, in this particular case, it could be dangerous to the survivor upon release. We all know despite all the facts being presented, the public will always make their own opinions occasionally independent of the facts. Imagine being this woman – finally free from abuse – only to be stopped on the street, in the store, and the dentists office, and told she’s a murderer, and a con artist, and got away with it all. 

There has to be discretion with disclosing names. It does not ALWAYS benefit from the public to know. I urge you to practice this balance of keeping the public informed, and keeping survivors of abuse safe from harm, both physical and emotional.  Thank you for being willing to hear responses on this. Samantha Beaupre -mental health case manager and advocate for survivors everywhere. 

John Harrigan – I am in my 53rd year as a person of the media, better described as one charged, in theory by some higher authority, with disseminating information properly in the public domain. As such I have been neither an officer of the court, nor an officer of the government, nor an officer of the legal system, but instead an officer of the public itself.

We are a nation that operates under the rule of law. The public’s right to know includes the basic right to know who has been removed from its midst, and why, and how. The free flow of information about pursuits and arrests is essential for public safety, prevention of false information, and protection of the right of due process.

Nobody, least of all the authorities, “owns” this information. It belongs to the public. We expect the authorities to clarify it and make it as accurate as possible under the circumstances, given the public’s over-arching right to know what is going on in its midst. Instances of random killers on the loose, or barn-burners, or kidnapers, or pet-abusers, are examples of the public’s over-arching right to know.

In other countries where courts are weak and the rule of law does not prevail, citizens are simply made to disappear, sometimes by outlaw factions allied with government or by government itself. One of our strongest bulwarks against such societal breakdowns is our awareness, protection, and use of the public’s right to know. This is why our knowledge of the rule of law during arrest and court proceedings is so critical to guarding the public’s right to know against knowing or unwitting abuse of the process by officers of the court.

We owe it to ourselves and our public to be well informed on the law, if only to guard against its erosion and abuse. Juveniles have abundant and historic protection under the law; victims, less so. Cases such as missing juveniles come to mind. Judgement calls as to fairness and propriety will inevitably arise. In such cases decisions are often left to the media, which over the long run, we feel, is best. John Harrigan Colebrook

George Reed – Whatever you report, it should be for constructive healing rather than sensationalism.  In this case, justice will be served regardless of media reporting, so why not aim higher? Sincerely, George Reed Bow, New Hampshire Nancy, you had asked about naming a victim of domestic violence.  Tough call.  I read your article more carefully and I’m grateful that you reported more about the murder victim than the accused.  I trust that he got that last hike in the hereafter.  Best, George Reed

Bob Clegg – It’s time we stopped protecting people based on gender or skin color     She cut the man’s head off and buried it.    Using the excuse of a DV victim doesn’t give her a pass.  Thank you for Printing the story. Bob Clegg 

Theodore Bosen – Just watched the kangaroo court bail hearing for this abuse victim, abused by her husband, abused by the press, and now abused by NH’s Draconian legal system. I am sick from it. The reason for not disclosing domestic abuse victims is to keep open a pathway to encourage them to come forward in safety. What you have helped do is teach every abuse victim in NH that if they ever came forward, they would be victimized yet again with a very public nightmare. I practiced criminal defense for 35 years and this is the most horrific abuse of a domestic violence victim that I have ever witnessed, the worse of it being that the court clearly ignored the legal standard of clear and convincing evidence that she would be a public threat if released. Moreover, I would like to send the smart assed prosecutor to northern Coos to see if he could make a phone call to save his life. No one can! Its clear he doesn’t even know the territory in his jurisdiction. But on top of all this, you jackals will kick a victim twice over to “get your facts!” Bullshit! You are nothing but vultures, reveling in sensationalism. GFY! Theodore Bosen

Ms. Trevor Shay Pratt – Nancy West, So, do you enjoy putting women in more danger? Because that is what you are doing.
Ms. Trevor Shay Pratt, Somerville, MA

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