Wife of Pulse gay nightclub shooter Omar Mateen acquitted of all charges by Florida jury
Noor Salman had been on trial in Orlando on charges of helping her husband in the 2016 attack and lying to the FBI
The widow of Omar Mateen, who murdered 49 people in the Orlando gay club Pulse in 2016, has been cleared of all charges related to the massacre by a jury in Orlando.
Jurors reached their conclusions early Friday morning and the verdicts were announced hours later in court.
Noor Salman was acquitted of charges of helping her husband in the 2016 attack; of obstruction and lying to the FBI; and of providing material support to a terrorist organisation.
She would have faced life in prison if convicted.
Salman’s hands were shaking in the moments before the jury’s findings were announced, WKMG-TV reported, and her family gasped as the result was read out.
After the verdicts were read, Salman began sobbing with joy and members of her family held each other.
On the other side of the courtroom, families of the victims of the Pulse shooting sat stone-faced and silent.
Outside the courthouse, Salman’s family said they were eager for her to be able to see her young son again. She had been in jail for two years awaiting trial.
Jurors deliberated over three days before reaching their verdict. They asked several questions about the charges Salman faced and closely examined the statement she made to the FBI in the hours after the attack.
Prosecutors said that Salman and her husband scouted out potential targets together – including Disney World’s shopping and entertainment complex – and that she knew he was buying ammunition for his AR-15 semi-automatic rifle in preparation for an attack.
She knew that he had a fascination with violent jihadi videos and an affinity for Islamic State group websites and gave him a “green light to commit terrorism”, prosecutors said.
Defence lawyers described Salman as an easily manipulated woman with a low IQ. They said that Salman, who was born in California to Palestinian parents, was abused by her husband, who cheated on her with other women and concealed much of his life from her.
Lawyer Charles Swift argued there was no way Salman knew that Mateen would attack the Pulse nightclub since Mateen himself did not know until moments before the shooting.
His intended target was the Disney Springs complex, prosecutors said.
“It’s a horrible, random, senseless killing by a monster,” Swift said during closing arguments. “But it wasn’t preplanned. The importance to this case is that if he didn’t know, she couldn’t know.”
Salman’s statement to the FBI in the hours after the attack appeared to play a key role in the case. In the statement, Salman said over “the last two years, Omar talked to me about jihad.”
She claimed her husband did not use the internet in their home, but he did. She told investigators that Mateen had deactivated his Facebook account in 2013, but they found that he had an account up until the month of the shooting – and was friends with his wife.
She said her husband only had one gun when he had three, and that he wasn’t radicalised. Mateen had pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group before he was killed.
Salman also advised Mateen to lie to his mother when she inquired about his whereabouts on the night of the shooting, prosecutors said.
Defence lawyers said that the FBI coerced Salman’s statement and that she signed it because she was tired after extensive questioning and feared losing her young son. They fought to have it thrown out.
Jurors asked to review the statement more closely a couple of hours into their deliberations and the judge obliged, printing off copies for them.
During the trial, prosecutors said that Mateen, who was born in New York to Afghan immigrants, intended to attack Disney World’s shopping and entertainment complex by hiding a gun in a stroller but became spooked by police and instead chose the gay club as his target.
Assistant US Attorney Sara Sweeney showed surveillance video of the Disney Springs complex that captured Mateen walking near the House of Blues club in the hours before the Pulse attack.
In it, he looks behind him at police officers standing nearby before deciding to leave.
“He had to choose a new target,” she said.
Salman’s lawyer took the jury through how she spent the hours immediately before the attack.
She called a friend and her uncle in California, saying that she was coming to visit and that Mateen would be joining them.
She spoke with her in-laws, ate at Applebee’s and texted Mateen. He did not respond.
She later went on Facebook, read a book and then texted Mateen again.
“You know you work tomorrow,” she wrote.
He responded: “You know what happened?”
She wrote, “What happened?”
Then he sent his last text: “I love you babe.”
Salman did not testify in her defence.