Judge sentences Munyenyezi to 10 years in genocide case
In giving Beatrice Munyenyezi the harshest possible sentence yesterday, a federal judge rejected the notion that she was a mere spectator to Rwanda’s 1994 genocide and said she had actively participated in mass killings “orchestrated by a truly evil government, an evil people.”
“She directed their murder. She facilitated murder. She aided and abetted,” Judge Steven McAuliffe said while sentencing Munyenyezi to 10 years in prison. “She lied repeatedly about her involved conduct. She lied about her . . . atrocities and she did so to obtain refuge in this country and citizenship in this country that she knew she was not qualified for.”
The jury that convicted Munyenyezi of immigration fraud in February had not needed to draw those same conclusions to find her guilty.
They were tasked with deciding whether the mother of three from Manchester lied during her road to gaining citizenship in 2003 and could have convicted her if that lie was about her affiliation with the ruling party during the genocide, her own participation in the violence or other acts ranging in severity. When the verdict was announced following four hours of deliberations, the group was not required to say what they agreed Munyenyezi deceived immigration officials about.
In U.S. District Court in Concord yesterday, Munyenyezi’s lawyer said there was “great ambiguity” about what the verdict meant and encouraged McAuliffe to not give her an enhanced sentence due to the underlying war crimes she was accused of but never charged with.
Munyenyezi was convicted only after a first proceeding in her case ended in a mistrial in March 2012, and defense attorney David Ruoff noted that prosecutors softened their depiction of her between the two cases. In the second trial, prosecutors highlighted her affiliation with the ruling MRND party but never said Munyenyezi herself committed murder.
“All lies are not created equal. And I don’t envy you, your honor, for trying to figure out which misstatements were based on murderous conduct or rather just conduct that would give her a much more lenient sentence under current guidelines,” Ruoff said. “There’s no way to tell.”
Ruoff also said Munyenyezi, who will face deportation after serving her sentence, was a model citizen in the United States who learned English and went to school while raising her daughters by herself.
McAuliffe, though, said he couldn’t dismiss the word of witnesses who flew from Rwanda to New Hampshire and testified that they had seen Munyenyezi check identification cards at a roadblock, separating Tutsis who would be killed or raped. Experts say more than 800,000 Tutsis died during the 100 days of violence, and Munyenyezi’s roadblock was described during the trial as one of the more notorious.
At trial, Munyenyezi’s lawyers tried to convince the jury that the witnesses were lying, either under direct control by the Rwandan government or societal pressure to please authorities. McAuliffe said yesterday he “bent over backwards” to let Ruoff and attorney Mark Howard make that case and added he personally “strived mightily to believe she might not have done what she’s accused of doing.”
The judge said in the end, he hadn’t seen any evidence that witnesses had been manipulated. Prosecutors, he said, presented a “largely unshaken” case.
“I think the facts are unavoidable,” McAuliffe said. “I think the truth is unavoidable as much as we may wish to avoid it.”
Munyenyezi, who applied to come to the United States as a refugee in 1995 and was naturalized in 2003, showed little response as McAuliffe handed down the sentence and said she stole citizenship, possibly from another young mother who was a true victim of the genocide she had perpetrated.
Munyenyezi declined the opportunity to address the judge.
Her lawyers plan to appeal her conviction to the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals. They had asked the judge yesterday to sentence Munyenyezi to less than one year, noting in court documents that she has already served four times more than the sentence called for under guidelines in place when her crimes were committed.
Both the prosecutors and McAuliffe attempted to hold up Munyenyezi’s case yesterday as an example for others who have participated in war crimes and sought refuge in the United States.
“This team knew this was going to be a challenge and we knew it had not been done before. But we knew tolerating genocide was not an option,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Aloke Chakravarty said after the sentencing. “Those who attempt to shroud their conduct . . . we will hunt them down and bring them to justice.”