NH judge declares mistrial in Rwanda genocide case

March 15, 2012 - 5:35 PM
Rwanda Genocide Citizenship

The daughter and son of Beatrice Munyenyez leave the Federal Court building Thursday, March 15, 2012 in Concord, N.H. A federal judge declared a mistrial in the case of Munyenyez, who was accused of lying to obtain U.S. citizenship by denying her role in the 1994 Rwanda genocide after jurors failed to reach a verdict. (AP Photo/Jim Cole)

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — A federal judge on Thursday declared a mistrial in the case of a New Hampshire woman accused of lying to obtain U.S. citizenship by denying her role in the 1994 Rwanda genocide.

Jurors had said Tuesday that they couldn't agree on the two counts in the case of Beatrice Munyenyezi after nearly 19 hours of deliberations over several days. They had Wednesday off, and when they returned on Thursday, Chief U.S. District Judge Steven McAuliffe instructed them to try to reach a unanimous verdict.

But they again deadlocked. Jurors sent out at note at about 3:20 p.m. saying they could not reach unanimous verdicts and all agreed that no consensus would be reached through further deliberations.

"You have not failed your duty as jurors," Judge McAuliffe told them. "Sometimes no decision is the right decision."

All 12 jurors after being dismissed declined to comment on the case or whether the majority was for guilt or innocence. Lawyers on both sides said they had not been told what the split was.

Munyenyezi, 42, who became a U.S. citizen in 2003 and moved to Manchester, did not testify during her 12-day federal trial. She had faced deportation to Rwanda if convicted, and her citizenship would automatically be stripped.

Munyenyezi buried her face in her hands when the jury foreman announced the outcome but did not cry. She remained stoic.

Her siblings and daughters declined to comment after the mistrial was declared.

Prosecutors Aloke Chakravarty and John Capin would not comment on the deadlock and said it's too soon to say whether they will try Munyenyezi again.

David Ruoff, one of Munyenyezi's lawyers, said he expects the government will prosecute her again.

"I think they're understandably disappointed," Ruoff said. "You think you have a good case and you can't convince 12 strangers you're right."

He and co-counsel Mark Howard met with Munyenyezi in the courthouse lock-up after court. He said she was emotional and confused by the verdict.

"She didn't quite know how to interpret it," Ruoff said. "We told her we beat substantial odds by hanging the jury," adding that convictions are far more prevalent.

Ruoff estimates the cost of prosecuting and defending Munyenyezi thus far totals nearly $3 million. More than a dozen witnesses and defense investigators were flown in from Rwanda and housed in hotels. Three interpreters of Kinyarwandan were hired and housed. Investigators from both sides made trips to Rwanda to prepare for trial.

Prosecutors say Munyenyezi was an extremist Hutu who killed and ordered the rapes of untold Tutsi victims — not the innocent refugee she claimed to be in 1995, when she applied for a visa and later when she applied for and obtained citizenship in 2003.

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 the federal forms. The only other similar trial in the U.S. involving immigration fraud related to the Rwanda genocide ended in a hung jury last May in Kansas.

Prosecution witnesses testified they saw her direct rapes and killings, but her relatives testified they never saw that, nor did they see her carry a gun or wear a military uniform. They said Munyenyezi, who was pregnant with twins at the time, mostly stayed inside the family-owned hotel that prosecutors said was the scene of the some of the brutality.

Defense lawyers maintain she is innocent. They 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 a war crimes tribunal in Tanzania.

Munyenyezi has been in custody at the Stratford County House of Corrections since her indictment in June 2010 that linked her to the genocide of about 700,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus from April to July of 1993.

She will remain in custody for the foreseeable future. Her lawyers expect by month's end to file a motion that she be released on bond.

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. However, she filed for bankruptcy protection in 2008, and had about $400,000 in debt discharged.

Federal prosecutors decline to say how Munyenyezi came to their attention. But in court documents, immigration agents describe interviews with alleged witnesses to the atrocities.

A federal affidavit says Munyenyezi and her husband, Arsene Shalom Ntahobali, were extremist Hutus who participated in roadblocks and ID checks that resulted in numerous Tutsi rapes and killings. Ntahobali and his mother, Pauline Nyiramasuhuko, were prominent defendants in the United Nation's international crimes tribunal on Rwanda, both charged with genocide and crimes against humanity. They were sentenced to life in prison last June. Ntahobali also was convicted of rape.

Munyenyezi testified as a defense witness at her husband's trial in 2006. In the bankruptcy filing she described herself as single but her criminal attorney, David Ruoff, said last year she was still married.