CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — Amid searing testimony by survivors of the Rwanda genocide, a New Hampshire woman sentenced to 10 years in prison after she was found guilty of lying about her role in the 1994 atrocity has said nothing.
Through two trials, 43-year-old Beatrice Munyenyezi of Manchester sat silently. She chose not to make a plea on her own behalf at her sentencing Monday in federal court in Concord — in the same building where prosecutors say the Rwandan native "stole" her U.S. citizenship a decade ago. She also declined requests for interviews. Midway through the sentencing hearing, she wept.
Prosecutors and defense lawyers say she is the first person in the United States to be convicted as a result of participation in the Rwanda genocide when hundreds of thousands of Tutsis and moderate Hutus were killed in a campaign of mass murder orchestrated by extremists.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Aloke Chakravarty said prosecutors had no precedent for her case and knew it would be a challenge.
"But tolerating genocide was not an option," he said Monday. "She's essentially a mass murderer."
Her lawyers said the maximum sentence she received will spare her from imminent deportation to Rwanda, a move they say would amount to a death sentence. They also said they plan to appeal her conviction.
Her lawyers portrayed her as the victim of lies by Rwandan witnesses who never before implicated her through nearly two decades of investigations and trials — even when testifying against her husband and his mother before the International Criminal Tribunal on Rwanda.
Munyenyezi was convicted in February of entering the United States and securing citizenship by masking her role as a commander of one of the notorious roadblocks where Tutsis were singled out for slaughter. She also denied affiliation with any political party, despite her husband's leadership role in the extremist Hutu militia party.
"She was not a mere spectator," U.S. District Judge Steven McAuliffe said. "I find this defendant was actively involved, actively participated, in the mass killing of men, women and children simply because they were Tutsis."
He said the United States cannot be a haven for those who slaughter out of hatred and ignorance.
Prosecutors sought the maximum prison sentence, saying she is as guilty as if she wielded the machete herself. They said she checked national identification cards at a roadblock in Butare, instructing Tutsis to sit and wait for Hutu militia armed with machetes and crude garden tools to hack and beat them to death.
Munyenyezi fled to Nairobi, Kenya, with her young daughter in July 1994, in the waning days of the genocide. Her twins were born there four months later. She entered the United States as a refugee and settled in Manchester with the aid of refugee relief agencies.
Before long, she had a $13-an-hour job working for the city's housing authority. Her children were enrolled in Catholic school and she attended college and earned an associate's degree. She financed a comfortable lifestyle through mortgages, loans and credit cards — only to file for bankruptcy in 2008 and have about $400,000 in debt discharged.
The judge said hers was a life lived under false pretenses and one she did not deserve.
McAuliffe made it clear that he was not sentencing Munyenyezi for her role in the genocide, but for lying to customs officials and undermining the integrity of the immigration process. He also said she lied when she testified on her husband's behalf in Rwanda.
Her husband, Arsene Shalom Ntahobali and his mother were convicted of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes of violence and are serving life sentences.
Munyenyezi's sister was convicted 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.