Judge, lawyers lay out ground rules in Rwandan genocide trial
Beatrice Munyenyezi, right, leaves Federal Court Thursday April 12, 2012 in Concord, N.H. after a judge is released her as she awaits a second trial on whether she lied about her role in the 1994 Rwanda genocide to obtain U.S. citizenship. A federal jury deadlocked in March 2012 on whether Munyenyezi commandeered a roadblock during the genocide and designated Tutsis for rape and murder. She's been incarcerated since June 2010. (AP Photo/Jim Cole)
When opening statements are made this morning at Beatrice Munyenyezi’s trial, jurors will hear mention of a prior proceeding in the case. But the group will be given no indication that another set of jurors sat in the same courtroom nearly a year ago, heard testimony Munyenyezi had committed atrocities during the Rwandan genocide and in the end failed to decide her guilt or innocence.
That first jury’s indecision resulted in a mistrial at U.S. District Court in Concord last March. A new jury of seven women and five men was selected yesterday. The retrial – where prosecutors will again attempt to prove Munyenyezi ordered the rape and murder of countless people during the 1994 genocide and then lied about her role when gaining U.S. citizenship – is expected to last two to three weeks.
Yesterday, Judge Steven McAuliffe met with the lawyers to lay out several ground rules for the proceeding, including how to refer to the first trial.
He also reiterated that the jury shouldn’t be told that Munyenyezi’s husband and mother-in-law were convicted by an international tribunal for partaking in the violence. The judge made the same order before the last trial, but the evidence was nonetheless presented when a government agent testified about the convictions.
Yesterday, a prosecutor told McAuliffe that the agent has been “admonished” and won’t make the same mistake when he takes the stand again.
Experts have estimated between 500,000 and 1 million members of the Tutsi ethnic group were killed during the 1994 genocide, which lasted three months. The government has accused Munyenyezi – who now lives in Manchester – of ordering violence against Tutsis who were stopped at a roadblock outside a hotel owned by her husband’s family.
Her lawyers, Mark Howard and David Ruoff, say she was pregnant with twins at the time and spent the genocide inside the hotel. The defense seems prepared to stay the course they laid out last year: that she is innocent and witnesses who say otherwise have been led to lie either through direct influence by the Rwandan government or cultural pressure.
The two sides quarreled yesterday over whether the defense should be allowed to make that argument. They also debated whether the defense could question government witnesses about whether they viewed Rwandan media accounts written after Munyenyezi’s first trial.
The defense attorneys argued that the government’s Rwandan witnesses – most of whom did not testify in the last trial – may only be compelled to now identify her as a genocide participant because of the media reports.
When McAuliffe asked what evidence, if any, they had to prove that point, the attorneys said they haven’t been able to question the witnesses themselves. But they said some of the witnesses have given physical descriptions of Munyenyezi that distinctly match the photo of her printed with the newspaper articles.
Howard said it’s important to know whether the new witnesses have been influenced by the media, either because they coincidentally viewed the reports around the same time the U.S. government approached them about Munyenyezi or because Rwandan officials were more directly involved.
But prosecutors Aloke Chakravarty and John Capin said the defense did not produce any proof in the last trial that the Rwandan government tampered with the case, and they argued specifically that the defense shouldn’t be allowed to present the theory in its opening statement.
After Ruoff said he only intended to mention the media coverage, not the concept of wider government control, McAuliffe agreed to let the news reports be mentioned when the defense talks to the jury this morning.
It was unclear yesterday how far McAuliffe plans to let the defense go in trying to prove the Rwandan government’s influence. The judge seemed prepared to make decisions on several of the questions pertaining to evidence on a case-by-case basis during the trial.
Munyenyezi has been on house arrest since April when a judge decided to let her out of jail while awaiting the next trial. At the time, she had been behind bars since her arrest in July 2010.
Yesterday, the mother of three arrived at the courthouse with her two youngest daughters. She declined to comment through her lawyers.
Howard said she is “anxious and stressed” but called her a “strong woman” who is prepared to go through the trial to prove her innocence.
(Tricia L. Nadolny can be reached at 369-3306 or firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @tricia_nadolny.)