Lawyers file appeal in Rwanda genocide case
FILE- In this Thursday April 12, 2012 file photo, Beatrice Munyenyezi leaves federal court in Concord, N.H. Munyenyezi is serving a 10-year prison sentence after being convicted of lying about her role in the 1994 Rwanda genocide to come to the U.S. and eventually obtain citizenship. Her attorney, David Ruoff, is seeking to have her conviction overturned. Ruoff said in a brief filed May 14, 2014, in the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston, that the trial judge should have granted a mistrial after Assistant U.S. Attorney John Capin made false assertions while cross-examining a defense witness. (AP Photo/Jim Cole, File)
A New Hampshire woman found guilty of lying about her role in the 1994 Rwanda genocide to obtain U.S. citizenship wants a federal appeals court to reverse her conviction, claiming prosecutor misconduct deprived her of a fair trial.
Lawyers for Beatrice Munyenyezi claim the trial judge erred in letting prosecutors use her testimony before an international war crimes tribune eight years ago to show she had a propensity to lie. They said her 10-year sentence is exceedingly harsh.
Munyenyezi was convicted in February 2013 in the same federal courthouse in Concord where she was granted U.S. citizenship a decade earlier. Her citizenship was stripped upon her conviction.
Assistant U.S. Attorney John Capin declined to comment Friday on the appeals brief.
Munyenyezi’s first trial ended in a mistrial in 2012, and prosecutors changed strategies markedly for the second trial. Instead of trying to convince jurors that Munyenyezi commandeered a roadblock during the genocide and designated Tutsis for rape and murder, they focused on whether she lied about being affiliated with a political party that orchestrated much of the genocide.
Attorney David Ruoff, who represents Munyenyezi, said in his brief filed May 14 in the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston that the trial judge should have granted a mistrial after Capin made false assertions while cross-examining a defense witness.
In questioning witness Alice Ahishakyie, who stayed at the hotel where Munyenyezi lived throughout the genocide, Capin asked whether she knew Munyenyezi’s brother-in-law was head of the Rwanda secret police; Ruoff said that organization doesn’t exist.
Capin also asserted during his questioning that Ahishakyie had traveled to Boston to testify in the perjury trial of Munyenyezi’s sister. Ruoff noted that Capin had prosecuted the sister and knew Ahishakyie wasn’t a witness. He wrote in his brief that U.S. District Judge Steven McAuliffe’s repeated admonishment to Capin “wasn’t enough.”
Ruoff also challenges the admission of portions of Munyenyezi’s testimony before the International Criminal Tribunal in 2006, when she said there was no roadblock in front of her in-laws’ Butare hotel, where Tutsis were singled out for rape and slaughter. She also testified that her husband didn’t participate in the genocide. The tribunal later determined he had and sentenced him to life in prison.
Prosecutors cited that testimony in arguing that Munyenyezi “lied over and over again.”
Ruoff also claims McAuliffe’s sentence far exceeds the six months or less that sentencing guidelines suggest. He said McAuliffe sentenced her for participating in the genocide and not for her convictions of misrepresenting her party affiliation on applications for refugee status and, later, citizenship.
“I find this defendant was actively involved, actively participated, in the mass killing of men, women and children simply because they were Tutsis,” McAuliffe said at her sentencing last July.
Ruoff said the sentence was unreasonable.
“It presumed the jury’s verdict represented a finding that (Munyenyezi) participated in the genocide,” said Ruoff, who claims it is more likely their verdicts were based on her affiliation with the ruling Hutu party.