A woman convicted of lying about her role in the 1994 Rwanda genocide to obtain U.S. citizenship could be sent back to the country she fled in fear of her life 19 years ago.
A federal judge stripped Beatrice Munyenyezi of her U.S. citizenship after a jury convicted her on Thursday of two counts of masking her role in the genocide to gain refugee status and ultimately citizenship.
Munyenyezi, 43, is back behind bars, where she spent 22 months between her indictment in 2010 and the jury deadlocking in her first trial last year. She was released to home confinement in Manchester the month after that mistrial.
The jury forewoman said Friday that the panel, which deliberated for five hours, found the decision to convict "painful." Traci Booth said the jurors returned to their deliberations room and sobbed after the verdict was announced.
"I do feel we made the right decision," she said. "But it weighs so heavily on us."
Booth said she and her colleagues found the prosecution witnesses to be credible and compelling and believed the defense witnesses "were very rehearsed."
She said they did not feel Munyenyezi was a villain, but believed she did check identifications at a roadblock designed to ferret out Tutsis for slaughter and was a member or associate of an extremist Hutu political party.
"I don't think I ever been through anything more traumatic in my life," Booth said, of emotional testimony by Rwandans who had family members hacked to death by machetes. By the end of the nine days of testimony, she said was having nightmares about her family members being murdered.
Booth said jurors had a sense from some of the questions lawyers asked that there had been an earlier proceeding, but said none of them knew an earlier trial ended in a deadlocked jury and mistrial.
Munyenyezi faces up to 10 years in prison when sentenced in June and could face deportation back to Rwanda, an impoverished African country now run by the Tutsis she is convicted of persecuting, if her appeals fail.
Her lawyers say deportation to Rwanda amounts to a death sentence for her.
"She's going to get sent back to Rwanda now, and they'll kill her," defense attorney David Ruoff said after the verdict. "(U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement) will send her back in a heartbeat."
Ruoff said he and attorney Mark Howard plan to appeal her conviction to the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals. He said he doubts that, even if she gets out of prison before the appeal is decided, she would be deported before the court rules.
Munyenyezi brought her three daughters to the United States in 1998 and focused on providing a life and home for them. She landed a $13-an-hour job at Manchester's Housing Authority, enrolled her children in Catholic school and was on her way to financing a comfortable American lifestyle through mortgages, loans and credit cards before filing for bankruptcy protection in 2008.
Jurors deliberated for less than five hours Thursday before convicting Munyenyezi on two counts of fraudulently obtaining her U.S. citizenship status.
The first count alleged she denied any role in the genocide or affiliation with any political party at the time. The second count alleged she was ineligible for citizenship because she entered the United States unlawfully by making the same false statements on her refugee and green card applications.
Federal prosecutors during the second trial changed their witnesses and strategy, focusing less on violent acts she was accused of committing and more on showing she lied when she denied affiliation in any political party.
Instead of relying on a handful of Rwandan prisoners serving life sentences for murders and rapes during the genocide, prosecutors brought in Butare residents who placed Munyenyezi at a roadblock where Tutsis were identified by the ethnicities listed on their Rwandan ID cards and ordered killed. Other witnesses testified they saw her in the garb worn by leaders of the extremist Hutu political party, the MRND.
Upon hearing the guilty verdicts, Munyenyezi put her head down on the defense table and wept loudly. Her 18-year-old daughter sobbed as she left the courtroom; her two other daughters were not in court.
The only comment made by Assistant U.S. Attorney John Capin outside court Thursday was: "She's guilty."
The same team of prosecutors in Munyenyezi's case secured a conviction against her sister 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.
The sister also was convicted of perjury and obstruction of justice related to her immigration court testimony. She was sentenced to 21 months in federal prison in Connecticut.
Munyenyezi's husband and his mother were convicted by the International Criminal Tribunal on Rwanda and sentenced to life in prison in June 2011 for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes of violence. They were deemed to be high-ranking members of the Hutu militia party that orchestrated savage attacks on members of the rival Tutsis. The mother was a cabinet minister in the Hutu-dominated Rwandan government when the genocide began in early April 1994.