The Monster Next Door
Beatrice Munyenyezi claimed she was a refugee from the Rwandan genocide. Federal agent Brian Andersen suspected she was someone far more sinister.
And that appeared to be that. Munyenyezi’s defense lawyer, David Ruoff, took shots at the feds, saying, “The government claimed they had a mountain of evidence against my client. When they moved that mountain into the courtroom it eroded very quickly.” And Munyenyezi captured the media’s sympathies. In August 2012, the Boston Globe published a long feature on Munyenyezi’s case, for which she spoke, at length, on the record. It was a tender portrait, questioning whether the government ever had enough evidence to charge her and concluding that “prosecutors offered no physical proof at trial that she had committed genocide.”
It was a devastating blow to Andersen, who by now had dedicated five full years to the case. “My heart sank,” he says. “It sank to a depth I never knew existed. I had never worked as many hours, days, weeks, or months on any one investigation.”
Andersen blamed himself. He knew Munyenyezi had committed genocide; the only plausible explanation for the jury’s inability to convict, he felt, was that he had failed. He felt he’d let down his agency, his colleagues, and—most important—the victims and survivors in Rwanda whose spirits had been buoyed by the hope of justice in a U.S. courtroom.
At a post-trial meeting with prosecutors, Andersen pushed hard to convince the U.S. Attorney’s Office to commit additional money, which was hard to come by, to retry Munyenyezi. The case had eaten up years, and everyone there knew it would not be easy.
Still, the U.S. Attorney’s Office agreed to retry the case, and let Andersen attempt to finish the job he had started in 2007. But first, Andersen would have to go back to Rwanda one last time.
If the government was going to try Munyenyezi a second time, Andersen and the prosecutors knew they needed a fresh game plan. Relying on survivors and murderers had not gotten the job done. Jurors had heard from militiamen such as Munyaneza, who recalled Munyenyezi murdering the nun. But it was hardly sympathetic testimony from a man who could not even recall how many lives he had taken, telling the court, “Only God knows.” Defense attorneys successfully argued that killers such as Munyaneza had a motive to lie, planting the seed that they might get leniency at home for cooperating with U.S. officials. Survivors’ stories were damning, but inconsistent. Instead, Andersen needed to find more reliable and believable witnesses: people who were not directly involved with Munyenyezi during the genocide, but had known her before the killing began, or had watched her at the roadblock from afar. “These witnesses were neighbors, teachers, laborers,” Andersen says. “Consequently, their testimony was highly credible because of the context within which they knew Beatrice, before she became a killer.”
Andersen returned to Rwanda with a heavy burden: He’d lost. The scores of survivors he’d interviewed still carried their scars, visible and invisible, while the Commander was still at large. This time, he brought soccer balls to give to their children, who he had seen playing in the streets with orbs made of banana leaves and twine. The kids nicknamed him “Big Muzungu”: the Big White Guy.
As part of the new trial strategy, Andersen talked with Rwandans such as Jean Paul Rutaganda, a Tutsi who had managed to survive the genocide by hiding in a school across from the roadblock. A native of Butare who grew up near the Hotel Ihuriro, Rutaganda knew Munyenyezi before the genocide and saw firsthand what she had done. He told Andersen, and later testified in court, that Munyenyezi seemed to be in charge of the roadblock and spent her days there with a “notebook and a pen, counting” Tutsis, all while wearing an Interahamwe uniform. She also collected IDs, and when Tutsis tried to pass, Rutaganda said, they would be “beaten up. And they would be killed.”
Andersen also focused on proving that Munyenyezi was not just a hapless housewife but an active member of the Hutu-led MRND government. He interviewed Thierry Sebaganwa, a high school friend of Munyenyezi’s husband, Shalom. A college-educated oil worker in Kigali, Sebaganwa explained and later testified that Munyenyezi was a well-known member of the party and that he’d seen her wearing the Interahamwe uniform, a patchwork of greens and yellows with the letters MRND stitched in a circle. To strengthen his case, Andersen also used documents to place Munyenyezi at the roadblock during the genocide: Munyenyezi’s own résumé, for instance, plainly stated that she worked at the Hotel Ihuriro next to the checkpoint during the deadly spring of 1994.
The Rwandan witnesses, many of whom had never left home, flew to Logan Airport before the trial. It was February. There was snow on the ground and they were freezing. Andersen said he took his witnesses to eat fast food before busing them to a Comfort Inn in Concord.
One of the final witnesses Andersen helped usher to the stand was Dr. Rony Zachariah, who was in Rwanda on a humanitarian mission with Doctors Without Borders. “I’ve seen a lot,” Zachariah later told the court. “When I look back, it was hell on Earth.”
Zachariah told jurors he’d seen men fleeing from the roadblock near the Hotel Ihuriro, pursued by machete-wielding militiamen. He watched in horror as an elderly man fell and was slashed in the neck. Others, he said, were killed and thrown into a nearby river. Zachariah and his team left Butare after they witnessed an Interahamwe soldier murder one of his Hutu nurses. She was seven months pregnant, but her husband was a Tutsi. The doctor tried to prevent her death, screaming that she was Hutu. The soldier remained unfazed. “He said, ‘Doctor, you are right. You are right…Sabine is Hutu, but her husband is Tutsi, and this baby that she’s going to have is going to be Tutsi,’” Zachariah testified. “I felt numb.”