Crime & Courts

Testimony to wrap up in trial accusing Kansas man of genocide

Testimony in the federal trial of a Kansas man accused of participating in the 1994 Rwandan genocide is expected to wrap up during the coming week.

Defense attorneys will resume their efforts to instill reasonable doubt in the minds of jurors about crimes that allegedly happened 17 years ago in the impoverished African country.

Defense attorneys will put on the stand their last witnesses in the case of Lazare Kobagaya, 84, who faces the loss of his citizenship and deportation if convicted. The Topeka man is charged with unlawfully obtaining U.S. citizenship in 2006 and with fraud and misuse of an alien registration card in a case prosecutors have said is the first in the nation requiring proof of genocide.

U.S. District Judge Monti Belot has told jurors that they will not get their instructions or hear closing arguments until after the Memorial Day holiday. That would make May 31 the earliest day that the jury could get the case and begin deliberations.

Jurors must decide if Kobagaya lied to U.S. immigration officials.

The government alleges he concealed that he was living in Rwanda during the genocide by stating on an immigration form that he was in Burundi at the time. He is also alleged to have lied when he told authorities he had not engaged in genocide or committed any crimes for which he was not convicted.

More than 500,000 people were killed in Rwanda during 100 days of violence that began in April 1994. Most of the dead were ethnic Tutsi, while most of the killings were carried out by ethnic Hutu militias, before a Tutsi-led rebel movement took power.

The prosecution brought Rwandan witnesses to this country in an effort to prove that Kobagaya, a Hutu born in Burundi, ordered other Hutus in Birambo, the village where he lived at the time, to burn down the houses of their Tutsi neighbors.

He is accused of stabbing a Hutu man who refused to join in the killings, and of helping lead an attack up Mount Nyakizu, where hundreds of fleeing Tutsis were massacred.

Defense attorneys brought their own Rwandan witnesses to testify otherwise.

Kobagaya's son, Jean Claude Kandagaye, took the stand first for the defense to recount for jurors their family's life as Burundian refugees in Rwanda and his father's efforts years later to learn English so he could become a U.S. citizen.

The defense used Kandagaye — who filled out an immigration form for his father — to show jurors that the elderly Kobagaya did not understand English well and depended on others to translate documents and help him fill out immigration paperwork.

Several people testified that prisoners were pressured to confess and accuse others in order to be released from prison.

Also taking the stand last week for the defense was Francois Patrick Tuyisabe, who at the time of the genocide was an 18-year-old student home on vacation. He testified that he saw Kobagaya at his home in Birambo during the attacks at Mount Nyakizu.