Appeals court unanimously upholds Munyenyezi conviction with stinging opinion

Last modified: Sunday, March 29, 2015
A federal appeals court has upheld the conviction of Beatrice Munyenyezi, the Manchester woman found guilty of lying about her role in the 1994 Rwanda genocide.

In a broadly derisive opinion released Wednesday, the three-judge panel of the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals rejected each of Munyenyezi’s complaints, including her assertion that a mistrial should have been declared when prosecutors implied that her close relative was the director of Rwanda’s secret police.

“The bottom line is this,” the panel wrote. “We reverse mistrial denials only under ‘extremely compelling circumstances.’ . . . And the circumstances here do not come within a country mile of satisfying that standard.”

Munyenyezi was convicted in 2013 of entering the United States and securing citizenship by withholding information about her role as a commander of one of the infamous roadblocks where Tutsis were singled out for slaughter. She was sentenced to 10 years in prison.

During the genocide, at least 500,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus were killed by Hutu extremists.

With this week’s ruling, federal officials can begin the deportation process, which includes hearings that are themselves subject to appeal.

Munyenyezi’s lawyer, Mark Howard, has previously warned that Munyenyezi could be violently targeted if forced to return to Rwanda. He did not return a request for comment yesterday.

At trial and on appeal, Munyenyezi’s argued that witnesses had lied about their accounts or had otherwise been too young to accurately recall details.

“But the jury did not buy it,” the panel noted Wednesday. “And (again) credibility choices and evidence-weighing are for juries, not for reviewing courts.”

The panel also quickly and unanimously dismissed Munyenyezi’s contention that her sentence is excessive, given the crime.

“Munyenyezi attacks the (sentencing) judge’s ruling on several fronts,” they wrote. “None carries the day.”

Munyenyezi was arrested in 2010, 12 years after she moved to Manchester as a refugee with her three young daughters. The first trial in her case, in March 2013, ended with a hung jury.

Prosecutors argued that she had “gamed” the immigration system by swearing on immigration and naturalization forms that she persecuted no one, had no political affiliation, and had even cast herself as a victim by saying family members had “disappeared.”

Her attorneys countered that witnesses had never previously implicated her, even when she testified against her husband and his mother before the International Criminal Tribunal on Rwanda. Both were convicted of helping orchestrate the savage attacks and are serving life sentences.

(Jeremy Blackman can be reached at 369-3319, jblackman@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @JBlackmanCM.)