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In latest trial, a new take on Rwandan genocide suspect

Beatrice Munyenyezi (center) turns to speak to reporters as she leaves the Concord Federal Courthouse after being released on bail; Thursday, April 12, 2012.  Munyenyezi is facing a second trial on charges that she participated in the 1994 Rwandan genocide then lied about her involvement to seek asylum in the United States. The manchester resident's first trial resulted in a mistrial though prosecutors are planning to retry the case.

(Alexander Cohn/ Monitor staff)

Beatrice Munyenyezi (center) turns to speak to reporters as she leaves the Concord Federal Courthouse after being released on bail; Thursday, April 12, 2012. Munyenyezi is facing a second trial on charges that she participated in the 1994 Rwandan genocide then lied about her involvement to seek asylum in the United States. The manchester resident's first trial resulted in a mistrial though prosecutors are planning to retry the case. (Alexander Cohn/ Monitor staff)

Two juries, sitting on the same case one year apart, have been introduced by prosecutors to two very different versions of Beatrice Munyenyezi.

The first group met a monster, a woman witnesses said rewarded rapists with food and drink, hunted down Tutsis and shot a nun in front of a cheering crowd. After that jury deadlocked last March and a judge declared a mistrial, a second jury was selected this month at U.S. District Court in Concord.

That panel has been presented a milder picture of the Manchester woman who witnesses say showed her support for Rwanda’s 1994 genocide by wearing the clothing of the ruling party and by identifying Tutsis at a roadblock in front of a hotel owned by her husband’s family. Many witnesses at the second trial, which continues this week, described that as Munyenyezi’s only part in the violence, saying that once she sent Tutsis to the side of the road a group of men took them to an area where people were killed.

In the first trial, witnesses said Munyenyezi escorted victims – including women carrying children on their backs – to a pit where they were slaughtered.

Munyenyezi’s lawyers say both stories are lies, and witnesses who claim otherwise have been pressured by the Rwandan government.

It’s yet to be seen if this second depiction will be more compelling to a jury, which must decide if Munyenyezi hid her involvement and political affiliation when she applied for U.S. citizenship. The group is expected to begin deliberating on Wednesday or Thursday.

The jurors are likely unaware that the prosecution has changed course, but the shift has been noticeable to those who followed both trials.

An entirely new cast of Rwandans was assembled to testify against Munyenyezi between the two proceedings. And while the first group included several perpetrators brought over from Rwandan prisons – people her defense attorneys claimed would have their life sentences cut to 20 years for testifying – this time the prosecution has produced almost exclusively victims as witnesses.

The prosecution’s new approach likely wasn’t motivated by personal insights from jurors. Federal court rules bar attorneys from contacting jurors without special approval, which wasn’t given in this case.

But the heightened focus on Munyenyezi’s political participation is in line with what one juror told the Associated Press after the first trial: that no one on the panel was convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that Munyenyezi played a part in the killings.

The jurors, though, didn’t believe Munyenyezi had been ignorant of her family’s political connections, he said. (Her mother-in-law, a cabinet minister in the controlling government, and her husband, leader of the local youth militia, have both been convicted of genocide by an international court. Their cases are being appealed.) On one immigration form, Munyenyezi wrote that her family wasn’t politically active.

The juror said the group was spilt 10 to 2 in favor of guilt.

Political connections

Assistant U.S. Attorneys John Capin and Aloke Chakravarty have often returned to the same exhibits over the last two weeks: three shirts bearing the insignia of the MRND, the party in control during the genocide.

Various witnesses placed Munyenyezi in each of the outfits. One man said she wore a dress made of the bright, multicolored fabric at an MRND rally the year before the genocide. Another man said she had worn the light pink shirt while dancing with a group in front of the hotel the month violence broke out. Others described seeing Munyenyezi in a military uniform.

But even the degree of her political participation described by witnesses has changed between the two trials.

Last year, two men testified to seeing Munyenyezi attend and speak at meetings where people called for the extermination of Tutsis. Munyenyezi was also described as more politically connected before, with one of the witnesses in the earlier trial testifying to seeing her attend meetings at the interim Rwandan president’s house.

While witnesses in this proceeding have only placed Munyenyezi at the hotel roadblock, a Rwandan testified in the last trial that militiamen drove her to several of the barricades around the city. At those roadblocks, the other Hutus referred to her as “Commander,” two men testified in the first trial.

The defense’s Rwandan witnesses in the current trial began testifying Friday. All said they spent the genocide in the hotel, and several specifically described spending much of that time in the basement.

In the last trial, the hotel’s basement was depicted as a place where women were taken to be raped. But prosecutors didn’t pursue that element in this trial, and they didn’t question the recollection of witnesses who described the space as one where members of Munyenyezi’s family found refuge.

Witnesses sidelined

While the prosecution didn’t attempt to retell many of the stories containing more horrific accusations against Munyenyezi, court documents suggest they considered it. Prosecutors filed a list of potential witnesses in late January that included three Rwandans who had taken the stand in the first trial.

One of those witnesses testified last year that she had been raped in the basement of the hotel for three days before escaping. Another witness, the first to testify in the last trial, had described Munyenyezi pulling Tutsis out of a school twice during the genocide. (Several witnesses in the second trial have said they stayed at that school, but none said Munyenyezi was there.)

Chakravarty said last week that not all of the Rwandans listed as potential witnesses were brought to the United States for the trial. He declined to say which, if any, did make the trip but weren’t called to the stand.

(Tricia L. Nadolny can be reached at 369-3306 or tnadolny@cmonitor.com or on Twitter at @tricia_nadolny.)

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