Jury: NH woman lied about role in Rwanda genocide

February 21, 2013 - 5:31 PM
Rwanda Genocide Citizenship

In this April 12, 2012 file photo, Beatrice Munyenyezi leaves the federal courthouse in Concord, N.H., after a mistrial in a case on whether she lied about her role in the 1994 Rwanda genocide to obtain U.S. citizenship. On Thursday Feb. 21, 2013 a jury convicted Munyenyezi of lying about Rwanda genocide to get U.S. citizenship. U.S. District Judge Steven McAuliffe stripped her of her citizenship and ordered her detained until her sentencing, scheduled for June 3. Her lawyers said they will appeal. (AP Photo/Jim Cole)

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — Federal prosecutors in New Hampshire changed their witnesses and strategy to do what they failed to do a year ago — convict a Rwandan woman of falsely obtaining U.S. citizenship by concealing her role in a 1994 genocide.

Upon hearing the guilty verdicts Thursday, nearly a year after another jury failed to reach one, 43-year-old Beatrice Munyenyezi put her head down on the defense table and wept loudly.

U.S. District Court Judge Steven McAuliffe stripped her of her citizenship — in the same courthouse where she obtained it a decade ago — and ordered her taken into custody to await sentencing June 3. She faces up to 10 years in prison and deportation.

Munyeneyzi's 18-year-old daughter, Saro, sobbed as she left the courtroom.

Defense attorney David Ruoff said they will appeal her conviction. He said prosecutors this time around brought in witnesses who were "less disbelievable" than those who testified at the first trial, including several Rwandas who were serving life sentences for murders and rapes they committed during the genocide.

"The evidence presented by the government was a lot different than it was last time," Ruoff said. "We knew we had an uphill battle. They knew what their problems were in the other case and they fixed them."

The jury last year deliberated 19 hours before reporting it was hopelessly deadlocked. This time, jurors spent less than five hours mulling 10 days of testimony before announcing their verdicts Thursday.

Munyenyezi was indicted in June 2010 and remained in custody until last April — when she was released to home confinement in Manchester a month after the mistrial was declared.

The first count alleged she denied any role in the genocide or affiliation with any political party at the time. The second count alleged she was not eligible for citizenship because she entered the country unlawfully by making the same false statements on her refugee and green card applications.

In the second trial, prosecutors called upon new witnesses who placed Munyenyezi at a checkpoint where Tutsis were identified by the ethnicity listed on their Rwandan ID cards and ordered killed. Other witnesses testified they saw her in the garb worn by leaders of the MRND — the extremist Hutu political party.

The only comment offered by Assistant U.S. Attorney John Capin outside of court: "She's guilty."

Munyenyezi's husband, Arsene Shalom Ntahobali, and his mother were convicted by the International Criminal Tribunal on Rwanda and sentenced to life in prison in June 2011 for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes of violence. Both were deemed to be high-ranking members of the Hutu militia party that orchestrated savage attacks on members of the rival Tutsis. Ntahobali also was convicted of rape. His mother was a cabinet minister in the Hutu-dominated Rwandan government when the genocide began in early April 1994.

At that time, Munyenyezi lived in Butare, at a hotel owned by her husband's family. Hotel workers testified she was pregnant with twins, and had a baby daughter to care for, and stayed in the hotel until July. Munyenyezi, when she testified on her husband's behalf before the international tribunal, said there was no roadblock in front of the hotel and that life at the hotel was "boring."

But jurors saw U.S. Department of Defense satellite photos that showed a roadblock in front of the hotel and the line of people Capin called "a human traffic jam." He said Munyenyezi had "a front row seat" during the genocide.

Defense Attorney Mark Howard, in his final argument, assailed the credibility of prosecution witnesses who only last year implicated her for the first time in the genocide.

To prove Munyenyezi lied on her immigration and naturalization papers, prosecutors had to convince the jury she took an active part in the genocide, contrary to sworn statements on her refugee application in 1995 and citizenship application in 2003.

Her lawyers argued to jurors that she was the victim of lies by Rwandan witnesses who never before implicated her through nearly two decades of investigations and international trials, even when testifying against her husband and mother-in-law at the tribunal in Tanzania.

The same team of prosecutors in Munyenyezi's case secured a conviction against her sister last summer in Boston on charges of fraudulently obtaining a visa to enter the United States by lying about her own Hutu political party affiliations. Prudence Kantengwa also was convicted of perjury and obstruction of justice related to her immigration court testimony. She was sentenced to 21 months in federal prison.

Munyenyezi brought her three daughters to the United States in 1998 and focused on providing a life and home for them. Before long, she had a $13-an-hour job at Manchester's Housing Authority, her children were enrolled in Catholic school, and she was on her way to financing a comfortable American lifestyle through mortgages, loans and credit cards. She filed for bankruptcy protection in 2008, and had about $400,000 in debt discharged.