Lawyers-turned-judges support woman in citizenship appeal
CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — Two New Hampshire judges who were lawyers for a woman convicted of lying about her role in the 1994 Rwanda genocide to obtain U.S. citizenship are willing to testify on her behalf as she argues for a new trial.
Beatrice Munyenyezi (moon-yehn-YEH’-zee) was sentenced to 10 years in prison in 2013. She was found guilty of 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 party.
She requested a new trial based on a 2017 U.S. Supreme Court decision limiting the government’s ability to strip U.S. citizenship from immigrants for lying during the naturalization process. In that case, a Serb who immigrated from Bosnia to the United States lied about the reasons she feared persecution, her husband’s service in the Bosnian Army, and his role in the slaughter of thousands of Bosnian Muslim civilians. She asked that the jury be instructed that her citizenship could be stripped if the government proved that her lies had influenced the decision to grant her citizenship. The court declined to do that, but the Supreme Court reversed that decision.
David Ruoff and Mark Howard represented Munyenyezi and have been state superior court judges for several years now. They said in court documents Tuesday they would have presented Munyenyezi’s case differently, if the U.S. Supreme Court decision had been law during her trial.
They added that they believe if the jury had instructed based on the court decision, “the verdict may have been different.”
At the time, her lawyers portrayed her as the victim of lies by Rwandan witnesses who had 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.
The U.S. Attorney’s office said that Munyenyezi isn’t entitled to a new trial and could have raised a similar legal argument at the time because it had come up in other cases. But Ruoff and Howard said they were not aware that other lawyers had raised the issue.
Lawyers for Munyenyezi’s three daughters, who were very young when they were brought to the United States, said immigration authorities have sent notice intending to cancel their U.S. citizenship because it was based on Munyenyezi’s naturalization, which was revoked. They said the daughters “deserve the opportunity to pursue their educational, professional and personal aspirations with the full benefits of citizenship to which they are entitled.”