Jury selection began Thursday in Florida’s Middle District Federal Court, in the trial of Noor Salman, the widow of Pulse nightclub killer Omar Mateen.
Salman, 31, is charged with aiding and abetting Mateen in carrying out his massacre at the LGBT venue, in which he shot 49 patrons to death, and wounded 53 others. “I don’t condone what he has done,” Salman says, insisting she had no prior knowledge of her husband’s plans. “I am very sorry for what has happened. He has hurt a lot of people.”
Prosecutors, however, disagree, and are also charging Salman with lying to investigators about the couple’s roles in the massacre. The June 2016 attack was, at the time, the worst mass shooting in US history, and ended when Mateen, equipped with an MCX assault rifle and 9mm handgun, was killed by the Orlando Police SWAT team, following a three-hour standoff.
The gunman professed allegiance with the Islamic State (ISIL) terrorist group in a 911 call placed during his rampage, but FBI investigators said evidence tying him to actual ISIL fighters was inconclusive. However, under federal terrorism law, if prosecutors can prove Salman helped her husband support ISIL, including preparation for the attack, she could face life behind bars. “Given the terrible magnitude of what Mateen was intending, it would have been far too dangerous for Mateen to have someone repeatedly present who was not a participant in the offense,” US Attorneys James D. Mandolfo, and Sara C. Sweeney, said in charging documents, portraying Salman as a knowing assistant who allegedly cased the Pulse nightclub, and other locations, with Mateen in the weeks before the shootings.
Prosecutors also pointed out that the couple spent large sums of money in the two weeks before the massacre, with an AR-15 rifle and Glock semi-automatic handgun among those purchases. Salman’s attorneys insist that their client was “in the dark” about her husband’s activities, and suggested that detectives and FBI agents improperly elicited incriminating statements from her. As part of their defense, the lawyers planned to show that Salman was an abused wife, suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.
Pulse survivors at the courthouse, including India Godman, however, scoffed at that idea. “She says she has PTSD,” Godman railed. “What kind of PTSD does she have? Guilt? That she knew what was going on that night?”
The trial itself could begin, said District Judge Paul Byron, in about two weeks. The jurist noted that the jury will be protected by strict anonymity, and will use undisclosed entrances to enter and exit the courthouse. Jury selection continues on Friday at 9 AM.