2nd trial looms for Manchester woman with Rwanda ties
Federal prosecutors are gearing up for the second trial of a Manchester woman accused of lying about her role in the 1994 Rwanda genocide so she could enter the United States and become a citizen.
Prosecutors say 43-year-old Beatrice Munyenyezi ordered the rapes and murders of Tutsis and moderate Hutus during the genocide that killed up to 800,000 people. They contend she was lying when she denied any role in the killings on papers used to enter the United States in 1995 and obtain citizenship in 2003.
Munyenyezi’s 2012 trial ended in a mistrial after jurors deadlocked, in part because members of the panel believed that witnesses did not understand all the questions posed by the lawyers through translators.
Prosecutors would not comment on their decision to abandon most of their Rwandan witnesses from the first trial and substitute a new roster in preparation for the second trial, which is to begin Feb. 4.
Defense attorney Mark Howard, who said he has seen the prosecution’s witness list for the upcoming trial, said most of the government’s Rwanda witnesses will be new. Among those missing from the government’s first witness list are Rwandan prisoners serving life sentences for hacking and beating to death scores of Tutsis and raping women before killing them with crude garden tools and machetes.
“I think the government acknowledges there’s no way they could prove their case with the highly impeachable witnesses they brought the first time around,” Howard said.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Aloke Chakravarty declined to comment on the government’s strategy.
Munyenyezi has declined to talk about the case in the past and her lawyers did not immediately respond to a recent request from the Associated Press for an interview. She did not testify at her first trial.
Relatives testified she was pregnant and ill and holed up in a Butare hotel owned by her husband’s family during the time prosecutors say she was manning a checkpoint outside the hotel and designating who should die.
After moving to New Hampshire, Munyenyezi worked for several years as a family services coordinator for the Manchester Housing and Redevelopment Authority for $13 an hour. She was working as a nurse’s aide at Elliott Hospital in Manchester when she was indicted in 2010 and then was held without bond.
After the mistrial was declared, Munyenyezi was released in April to home confinement and electronic monitoring. Prosecutors opposed her release, but the judge said holding her until a second trial seemed like a punishment after the mistrial.
A juror in the first trial told AP that none of the jurors was convinced she took part in the slaughter, but 10 of the 12 believed she lied on the government documents when she disavowed any affiliation with any political party during the genocide.
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.
“We thought she had to have known her husband and mother-in-law were politically active,” said the juror, who spoke with AP in April on the condition of anonymity because he feared being harassed or threatened.
The juror said members of the panel were not confident the Rwandan witnesses understood the questions being posed by lawyers, whose words were translated from English to Kinyarwandan and back. Some cross-examination involved documents from other tribunals, some of them in French.
The same scenario, with a trio of interpreters fluent in Kinyarwandan, is expected to play out in the second trial.
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 in Connecticut.