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Lawyer: $2.5m spent on refugee's mistrial

New Hampshire Sunday News

March 31. 2012 9:44PM

One of the attorneys who defended a Manchester woman accused of lying about her role in the 1994 Rwanda genocide to gain U.S. citizenship estimated her recent prosecution and trial in federal court in Concord cost taxpayers between $2.5 million and $3 million.

Manchester attorney Mark Howard, a former federal prosecutor who represents Beatrice Munyenyezi, 42, said taxpayers will bear the cost of both her defense and her prosecution because the court deemed her to be indigent.

The three-week-long trial in U.S. District Court ended in a mistrial two weeks ago when jurors couldn't reach a verdict, but the government said Friday she will be retried.

That trial will likely cost an additional $1 million, Howard said.

Cases of public significance can be expensive to prosecute, Howard said, such as when breaking up dangerous gangs or trying big economic fraud cases.

'But to spend that kind of money to prosecute an individual who has done no harm in the 15 years she has been in the United States makes no sense to me,' Howard said.

Prosecutors alleged Munyenyezi, a Hutu, ordered the rape and murder of mostly Tutsi people from a blockade she controlled at a hotel owned by her husband's family.

But Howard insisted at trial that Munyenyezi never participated in genocide crimes and was, in fact, inside the hotel, sick and pregnant with twins during that time.

'In my own opinion, I don't think the evidence supports another prosecution,' Howard said.

On Friday, the government scheduled a second trial for Munyenyezi, set to begin on Sept. 10.

John Kacavas, U.S. attorney for New Hampshire, did not return phone calls seeking comment on Friday. The U.S. Attorney's Office in Boston, also did not respond.

Howard's estimated costs include attorney fees, agent salaries, the 'extraordinary expense' of investigating in a foreign country, bringing witnesses to Concord and hiring experts.

Last year, Howard's co-defense attorney, David Ruoff, spent two weeks in Rwanda, and he and Ruoff both had to return there earlier this year.

Although he and Ruoff are working at much-reduced rates, Howard said, the defense's fees have already climbed to more than $400,000.

Howard said he based his estimates partly on a Freedom of Information Act request by a Kansas newspaper for costs related to a similar trial there last year.

The government refused to release the bulk of the expenses, but Howard said he filled in the blanks in discussions with attorneys there, as well as his own experiences.

The Kansas trial lasted about four weeks, and Howard estimated it cost about the same as the case against Munyenyezi so far, between $2.5 million and $3 million.

In the case against Munyenyezi, the government sent multiple teams of agents to Rwanda five times, Howard said.

During trial, the defense brought 12 witnesses from Rwanda to Concord for a week. The prosecution brought about 15 witnesses from Rwanda for three weeks, Howard said.

Munyenyezi is charged with making false statements on her citizenship application in 2003. The allegation is that she lied about participating in the genocide and her affiliation with the then-ruling party of Rwanda, the Hutus.

The penalty if convicted here would be immediate revocation of her citizenship, a maximum federal prison sentence of 10 years and deportation, Howard said.

Munyenyezi came to the United States with her three daughters in 1998 as a refugee and had worked for the Manchester Housing Authority for $13 an hour.

Munyenyezi has been jailed since her arrest in June 2010.

At trial, the government alleged Munyenyezi controlled local militia in the area of Butare, Rwanda, and oversaw roadblocks being constructed. The government further asserted she controlled those roadblocks and directed others to identify people who were Tutsis, then segregated them to be raped and killed.

Two witnesses testified she killed people, including a nun, shooting the nun herself after ordering her to be raped.

The genocide in Rwanda lasted about 100 days, starting April 6, 1994. Between 500,000 and 800,000 people were estimated to have been killed.

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