CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — Jurors in the trial of a New Hampshire woman charged with masking her role in the 1994 Rwanda genocide to gain U.S. citizenship were presented two sharply contrasting portraits of her as her second trial opened Wednesday.
Defense attorney David Ruoff cast Beatrice Munyenyezi, a 43-year-old mother of three, as a strong, resilient woman who spoke barely a word of English when she filled out forms to enter the United States as a refugee in 1995.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Aloke Chakravarty called her swearing-in as a U.S. citizen 10 years ago in the very same federal courthouse in which she is on trial ‘‘a fraud.’’ Chakravarty said Munyenyezi was part of the Hutu machinery that slaughtered hundreds of thousands of Tutsis and moderate Hutus during the 100-day genocide.
On various federal forms beginning in 1995, prosecutors say, Munyenyezi denied any political affiliation or role in the Rwanda genocide, and said she lost family members to the slaughter.
Ruoff rhetorically asked jurors why, on those same forms, Munyenyezi repeatedly identified her husband and mother-in-law by their real names.
Munyenyezi’s husband, Arsene Shalom Ntahobali, and his mother were convicted by the International Criminal Tribunal on Rwanda (ICTR) and sentenced to life in prison in June 2011 for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes of violence. Both were considered high-ranking members of the Hutu militia party that orchestrated savage attacks on members of the rival Tutsis. Ntahobali also was convicted of rape. Their convictions are on appeal.
Jurors got a crash course in the genesis and history of the Rwanda genocide in opening statements and through the eyes of Dr. Rony Zachariah, who was in Rwanda with Doctors Without Borders when the slaughter began on April 6, 1994 — the day Rwanda President Juvenal Habyarimana’s plane was shot down.
Zachariah testified that as the genocide escalated, he encountered more and more crude roadblocks set up by Hutus to ferret out Tutsis — whose ethnic affiliation was listed on national identification cards — and kill them.
At one roadblock near the Burundi border, he said, 70 people rushed by, chased by machete-wielding Hutus. He said he saw an old man get chopped in the neck and fall to the ground. As the Tutsis approached the Burundi board, Zachariah said, another group of militia awaited and cut them down.
‘‘Out of 70, maybe six to 10 managed to cross the border,’’ Zachariah. ‘‘The others were killed and thrown in the river.’’
‘‘When I look back, it was hell on earth,’’ the doctor testified.
When the genocide began, Munyenyezi was nursing an infant daughter and was pregnant with twins. She lived in a Butare hotel owned by her husband’s family.
Prosecutors say there was a roadblock in front of the hotel — a checkpoint where Hutu militia and civilians alike would check the identity cards of all who passed through. Tutsis were slaughtered, often hacked to death by machetes and crude garden tools. Tutsi women were raped. Prosecutors say Munyenyezi manned this checkpoint at times, deciding who would live and die.
Munyenyezi traveled to Tanzania and testified on her husband’s behalf before the ICTR around 2004 and again in 2008. Chakravarty says she denied seeing bodies and lied when she said there was no roadblock in front of the hotel. He said Department of Defense satellite photos clearly show the checkpoint.
Zachariah said he didn’t witness any killings at the roadblock outside the Butare hotel and doesn’t recall seeing a woman staffing the roadblock.
Both Ruoff and Chakravarty attacked each other’s cases in their opening remarks.
Ruoff said the government’s Rwandan witnesses are not to be believed and face criminal prosecution in Rwanda if they don’t implicate her.
‘‘You don’t have to take these witnesses at their word,’’ Ruoff said. ‘‘Given where they’re coming from and what they’re going back to, you shouldn't.’’
Chakravarty told jurors that Munyenyezi’s lawyers ‘‘will try to confuse you, distract you, with this idea that you can’t believe anyone from Rwanda.’’
Munyenyezi’s first trial ended in a mistrial last March, after the jury deadlocked. Munyenyezi did not testify at that trial.
Testimony resumes Thursday. A witness who identified Munyenyezi’s husband as a high school friend and said he twice saw Munyenyezi wearing the uniform of the MRND Hutu militia party is scheduled to take the stand.