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Jury of 12 will hear graphic evidence against US woman accused of role in Rwanda genocide
CONCORD, New Hampshire (AP) ' The trial of a woman charged with lying about her role in the 1994 Rwanda genocide is expected to transport jurors back nearly two decades to a roadblock outside a family owned hotel where prosecutors say the defendant decided who would live and who would die.
Prosecutors say 41-year-old Beatrice Munyenyezi lied on applications to enter the United States in 1995 and to obtain citizenship in 2003. They say she ordered the rapes and murders of Tutsis during the genocide that killed up to 800,000 people. She denies any involvement.
A federal jury of eight men and four women is set to hear graphic testimony in the case, with opening statements on Thursday. The trial is expected to last four to six weeks.
Munyenyezi's lawyers Wednesday said she is "frightened."
"She's under a lot of stress," attorney Mark Howard said. "She's very nervous. She doesn't understand the process very well."
Munyenyezi's life since she came to the United States as a refugee in 1998 has changed radically from living the American Dream to now facing possible deportation and what her lawyers say would result in lifelong imprisonment in Rwanda, if she is convicted.
She is being tried in the same courthouse where she became a U.S. citizen nearly a decade ago.
Soon after her arrival to the U.S., her three daughters were enrolled in Catholic schools. She bought a house in Manchester and worked for the city's housing authority. She financed her way into the middle class through loans, credit cards and a mortgage. She filed for bankruptcy a decade after arriving in Manchester and walked away from hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt, including a $222,000 mortgage, $14,125 in student loans and $30,000 in credit card and other unsecured debt.
Munyenyezi has been held without bond ' and separated from her three daughters ' since her arrest in June 2010.
Lawyers from both sides Wednesday briefly got to question as a group 36 potential jurors who were culled from the larger pool of 160.
Attorney David Ruoff, representing Munyenyezi, asked them if they could withstand graphic testimony about rapes and murders that took place in Rwanda and whether they have any opinions about the "hot-button" topic of immigration.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Aloke Chakravarty asked the jury candidates if they had a problem hearing from so many foreign witnesses and whether anyone close to them had a suffered a "life-altering trauma" and had confided in them.
No juror replied with a "yes" and the lawyers then pared them to the final and four alternates based on information in juror questionnaires.
Chief U.S. District Judge Steven McAuliffe has described the trial as "particularly complex."
Three Kinyarwandan interpreters have been hired and housed. Their identities and the identities of the Rwandan witnesses also are sealed, as are many documents in the case. All witnesses coming from Rwanda will wear electronic monitoring devices and will be under "constant supervision" by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents, according to court documents.
Ruoff and Howard travelled to Rwanda, in east-central Africa, to meet with investigators, interview witnesses and do research on Butare and details of the 1994 genocide. They say it's the most difficult case they've every handled.
"We're coordinating a defense team on the other side of the planet," Ruoff said.
Prosecutors on Wednesday would not comment on the logistics of preparing and presenting their case.
Munyenyezi is married to Arsene Shalom Ntahobali, a commander in the former Rwandan army and one of the "Butare Six" tried before the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda in Tanzania. Ntahobali and his mother, Pauline Nyiramasuhuko, were both sentenced by the ICTR to life in prison last June for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes of violence. Ntahobali was also convicted of rape. Jurors are expected to hear about Ntahobali.
To prove Munyenyezi lied on her immigration and naturalization papers, prosecutors must convince the jury she took an active part in the genocide, contrary to sworn statements on the federal forms.
The only other similar trial in the U.S. involving immigration fraud related to the Rwanda genocide ended in a hung jury last May in Kansas.
Although the jury did convict 84-year-old Lazare Kobagaya of making false statements on immigration forms about dates and places he lived, they deadlocked on whether he played a role in the genocide. Federal prosecutors moved to set aside the guilty verdict on the lesser charge and dismiss the indictment three months later because they failed to disclose information about a witness who would have benefited the defense, according to court documents.