US woman accused in genocide case is released
Concord: A judge on Thursday released a New Hampshire woman as she awaits a second trial on whether she lied about her role in the 1994 Rwanda genocide to obtain US citizenship.
A federal jury deadlocked last month on whether 42-year-old Beatrice Munyenyezi commandeered a roadblock during the genocide and designated Tutsis for rape and murder.
Munyenyezi walked free on Thursday for the first time since her indictment in June 2010. She was released to home confinement and electronic monitoring. She said it felt "great" to be free, but declined further comment.
"I can`t speak," she said with emotion in her voice. "Maybe I can answer questions another time."
Prosecutors opposed her release. Assistant US Attorney John Capin argued that Munyenyezi has all the more reason to flee now after seeing the strength of the government`s case and witnesses.
Munyenyezi`s second trial is scheduled to begin in September.
"By September, she will have been held over two years," said US Magistrate Landya McCafferty. "It begins to feel punitive."
McCafferty said she was concerned about the flight risk and set conditions on Munyenyezi`s release.
Besides confinement to her Manchester home and electronic monitoring, Munyenyezi can have no Internet contact and her three daughters, ages 17-19, must turn in any passports and travel documents they have. Her daughters may have computers in the house but those must be equipped with monitoring software that requires a user`s fingerprint to activate.
The judge did not set a bond.
Munyenyezi can leave the house for pre-approved medical appointments, religious services and meetings with her lawyers. Her home and vehicle are subject to search at any time.
Once McCafferty signalled her intent to release Munyenyezi, the defendant`s 17-year-old daughter smiled broadly and whispered an exclamation as Munyenyezi`s sister hugged the teen.
Capin would not comment on McCafferty`s decision.
The jury in her case deadlocked March 15 after four days of deliberations on evidence that spanned 12 days in federal court in Concord.
She is charged with two counts of lying on immigration documents when she applied to enter the US in 1995 and to obtain her citizenship in 2003. If convicted, she faces a 10-year prison sentence on each count and deportation to Rwanda. She also would automatically lose her US citizenship.
Prosecutors say Munyenyezi ordered the rapes and killings of an untold number of Tutsis at a roadblock she commandeered in front of the Butare hotel owned by her husband`s family. They also say she lied when she testified at the International Criminal Tribunal on Rwanda on her husband`s behalf and, therefore, can`t be trusted.
Munyenyezi`s relatives testified they never saw her carry a gun or wear a military uniform. They said Munyenyezi, who was pregnant with twins at the time, mostly stayed inside the family`s hotel. Munyenyezi did not testify.
At a bond hearing in November 2010, prosecutors stressed the amount of international travelling Munyenyezi had done while on food stamps and receiving housing assistance, suggesting she had access to underground funds to help her flee.
But her lawyers told the judge on Thursday that most of that travel revolved around trips to the ICTR to testify or be deposed. Attorney David Ruoff said her husband`s defence team paid for two of the trips and the tribunal paid for one.
The judge said the "notion of a pot of money" Munyenyezi could access greatly influenced her decision in 2010 to keep her in custody. "That argument is not that strong now," McCafferty said.
Ruoff said after court that he believed going into the hearing that Munyenyezi had a 30 percent chance of being released, and told her so. He said it`s rare for the defence to prevail when both the prosecution and probation are opposed to release.
Ruoff argued that the government`s Rwandan witnesses concocted the stories about Munyenyezi`s involvement in the genocide, and had never before mentioned her name in nearly two decades of investigations and trials. He said some of the witnesses have testified together at past trials in Rwanda and had ample opportunity for collusion.
"The government claimed they had a mountain of evidence against my client," Ruoff said. "When they moved that mountain into the courtroom it eroded very quickly."
Neither Capin nor Ruoff know how divided the deadlocked jury was or in what direction. Lawyers in federal court are not allowed to contact jurors after the trial is over.
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