CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — A New Hampshire woman who lied about her role in the 1994 Rwanda genocide was sentenced Monday to 10 years in prison, a fate her lawyers say is tantamount to a death sentence.
Rwanda native Beatrice Munyenyezi remained stoic as U.S. District Judge Steven McAuliffe sentenced her to the maximum prison time. She declined her right to address the court.
Munyenyezi, 43, was convicted in February of entering the United States and securing citizenship by lying about 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.
McAuliffe acknowledged she has led a crime-free and productive life since her arrival in New Hampshire in 1998 but said it was a life lived under false pretenses.
There was no visible reaction from Munyenyezi or her children when the sentence was imposed. But midway through the sentencing, Munyenyezi started weeping.
“It’s very, very traumatic,” defense attorney David Ruoff said afterward. “She’s been anxious about this, regardless of what happened in Rwanda in 1994. It’s traumatic for any person to face their kids under these circumstances.”
Federal prosecutors had sought the maximum prison sentence, saying she’s as guilty as if she wielded the machete herself.
At least 500,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus were killed in a campaign of mass murder orchestrated by Hutu extremists during the 1994 genocide.
Munyenyezi’s lawyers say they will appeal her conviction to the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals — a move that is expected to delay deportation proceedings.
Ruoff said he too had considered asking for the maximum 10-year term, to keep Munyenyezi in the United States longer.
“She stays here, she has access to her children,” he said.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Aloke Chakravarty said the case would be a challenge, and that no similar case linked to the Rwanda genocide had ever been prosecuted in the United States.
Through two trials and the three years since her indictment in 2010, Munyenyezi has remained silent. She did not testify and declined an Associated Press request for an interview in the wake of her first trial ending a mistrial in 2012.
She has spent most of those three years in custody and apart from her three daughters, ages 18-20.
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.
Prosecutors maintained that she was a liar who “gamed” the immigration system to fraudulently obtain the “golden ticket” of citizenship. She swore on immigration and naturalization forms that she persecuted no one, had no affiliation with any political party and even cast herself as a victim of the genocide by saying family members “disappeared.”
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.
Munyenyezi’s husband, Arsene Shalom Ntahobali and his mother were convicted of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes of violence and are serving life sentences. Both were deemed to be high-ranking members of the Hutu militia party that orchestrated the savage attacks on Tutsis.