Noor Salman is not guilty of helping her husband, Omar Mateen, carry out the mass shooting that claimed 49 lives at Pulse nightclub on June 12, 2016, a jury decided Friday.
The 12-member jury delivered its verdict after deliberating for about 12 hours over three days. Salman was also acquitted of obstruction of justice. Prosecutors accused her of lying to the FBI agents who investigated her husband’s mass murder, which he carried out in support of a foreign terror group, the Islamic State.
Had she been convicted, Salman, 31, would have faced up to life in prison.
Salman walked out of the Orange County Jail hand-in-hand with defense lawyer Fritz Scheller shortly after the verdict. Salman did not answer questions from media who captured her walk to Scheller’s car. Once inside the car, Salman covered her face.
Salman was crying after the verdict was read. She looked back at her family before leaving the courtroom through a side door, escorted by a U.S. marshal. Her cousin and two uncles began sobbing and hugging as soon as a clerk read the words “not guilty.”
“Happy Friday. It’s Good Friday,” Salman’s uncle, Al Salman, said outside the courthouse later.
He thanked his niece’s attorneys, the judge and the jury.
“Now, we’re looking forward to taking my niece and hiring a therapist for her,” he said. “I don’t know how she’s going to make up for the last two years. … I said, day one, that she’s innocent and I would stand here in front of you when the jury comes with the verdict to tell you, ‘I told you so.’”
“Now,” he said, “I came here to tell you: ‘I told you so.’”
Added Susan Adieh, Salman’s cousin: “We knew from day one she was innocent, and thank God it came out.”
Prosecutors in the case spoke only briefly after the verdict and didn’t take questions. “While we’re disappointed in the jury’s verdict, we respect their verdict and we appreciate all of their hard work and thank them for their service in this case,” prosecutor Sara Sweeney said.
Pulse owner Barbara Poma, who was present for the verdict, left silently with a group of family members of Pulse victims after it was read. Some held hands as they left the courthouse.
“The survivors, families, and first responders as well as the community of Orlando and everyone around the world must now focus on the work ahead of us,” Poma later said in a written statement. “We will always carry the pain of what happened at Pulse, and we will never forget those who were taken. We will wrap our arms around all affected today and in the days to come.”
Speaking to reporters, defense attorney Fritz Scheller called the victims’ families “extraordinary people” and thanked them for their decorum and dignity.
“They’ve gone through a lot,” he said.
Asked where he through the government lost the case, Scheller said it was “when they started pushing this theory that Noor Salman is a cold, callous, calculating woman who only cares about herself and maybe her son.” Added fellow defense lawyer Charles Swift: “The government didn’t deliver on its promises”
The prosecution sought to prove Salman helped Mateen prepare for the attack, joining him as he scouted possible targets and bought guns and ammunition. They also said Salman concocted a cover story to tell Mateen’s mother after he left their Fort Pierce apartment to commit the attacks.
Salman’s defense, however, said there was no reason for Mateen to involve his wife in his plot — and no proof he had done so.
"Why would Omar Mateen confide in Noor, a woman he clearly had no respect for?" defense attorney Linda Moreno said during her closing arguments. "She was not his peer, she was not his partner, and she was not his confidant."
Central to the case were statements Salman made to Special Agent Ricardo Enriquez at an FBI office in the hours after the attack. The jury never heard those statements directly, as the agent didn’t record them. Instead, he transcribed her words — at her request, he said, because she was too nervous.
Enriquez testified about the moment he said he realized Salman was involved in her husband’s plot. After transcribing a statement from her, he asked her to sign the document and write that she had been treated fairly. She appended an apology: “I am sorry for what happened,” she wrote. “I wish I’d go back and tell his family and the police what he was going to do.”
“I said, ‘You know, Noor, I realize that you knew what was going on. You knew,’” Enriquez testified.
She denied it, so he asked her to re-read the statement.
“She began to cry, and said, ‘I knew,’” Enriquez said.
Salman would give two more statements to Enriquez, ultimately confessing she knew her husband was preparing for an attack. She also described a chilling scene: sitting alongside him as he drove around Pulse for 20 minutes during a family trip on June 8, 2016, and talked about attacking the club.
But there was a problem.
According to experts for both sides, the trip didn’t occur as described in Enriquez’s written statements.
FBI Special Agent Richard Fennern testified that most of the couple’s time that day was accounted for with receipts and cell phone records. They visited the Florida Mall, at a falafel restaurant and at a Kissimmee mosque, Fennern said, but Salman’s phone “had never been near the Pulse nightclub.”
In the government’s closing argument, Sweeney argued other elements of Salman's confession were corroborated, such as her accounts of a trip to City Place in Palm Beach, a visit to Disney Springs and details of her husband’s extravagant spending before the attack.
"The fact that these things are ultimately corroborated shows you that the defendant did not give a false confession," Sweeney said.
Sweeney said Mateen’s initial plan was to attack Disney Springs. He had bought a doll and a baby stroller, in which he planned to smuggle his rifle into the attraction, she said. But he was spooked by the police presence there and switched plans, ultimately choosing to strike at Pulse.
It didn’t matter if Salman knew her husband’s target, Sweeney said.
“She does not have to be his equal in the attack, and in fact she is not,” the prosecutor said.
But the defense argued to the contrary: that “if he didn't know, she couldn't know," as Swift put it in his closing argument.
"That doesn't make it less tragic,” Swift said. “Not in any way, shape, or form. It's a horrible, random, senseless killing by a monster. But it wasn't pre-planned."
Throughout the trial, Salman was described in vastly divergent ways by the government and defense. To prosecutors, she was a willing accomplice who gave her husband a “green light” to carry out the attack. To the defense, she was a simple-minded person, susceptible to manipulation.
During the government’s case, jurors watched video of Salman and Mateen standing together as he purchased ammunition and jewelry. They learned that Mateen had made his wife a death beneficiary on his accounts. A former IRS investigator testified the couple spent more than $32,000 between June 1 and June 12, including $26,532 in credit card purchases. Mateen’s annual salary was about $30,000.
It was evidence, prosecutors said, that the couple was preparing for his death.
But the defense portrayed Mateen as a man with secrets.
Jurors heard from women with whom Mateen carried on trysts, including one he met through his work as a security guard and another he’d from Plenty of Fish, an online dating service. They also heard from Nemo, a friend who Mateen sometimes claimed to be visiting during his affairs, testimony indicated.
Though Nemo testified for less than 10 minutes, he was mentioned in another crucial, but disputed, piece of evidence in the case: text messages Salman sent Mateen hours before the attack.
“If ur mom calls say nimo invited you out and noor wants to stay home,” Salman wrote in a text message to Mateen. “She asked where you were xoxo. Love you.”
Prosecutors argued the messages show Salman was helping her husband concoct a cover story to tell his parents, who had invited the couple to a fast-breaking dinner at their mosque. Defense lawyers said the texts show Salman was trying to get out of going to the mosque with Mateen’s family.
Over the course of the trial, jurors saw graphic footage from inside Pulse, watching as Mateen sprayed bullets into a crowd of patrons, then stalked the nightclub, shooting the wounded as they lay on the dance floor. They also heard his conversations with an Orlando police negotiator, in which he declared his support for the Islamic State, blaming U.S. military strikes in the Middle East for the attack.
In a statement released after the verdict, Orlando police Chief John Mina said he was “grateful for the jury’s hard work and thoughtful deliberation.”
“Nothing can erase the pain we all feel about the senseless and brutal murders of 49 of our neighbors, friends, family members and loved ones,” Mina said. “I want to thank the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Florida and the FBI, who have worked tirelessly on this case in the quest for justice.”
In a statement, Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer said no outcome could erase the pain of the Pulse attack.
“Hopefully the conclusion of the trial related to the Pulse tragedy can help our community continue the healing process,” he said, stressing that help is available for those impacted by the tragedy at Pulse through the Orlando United Assistance Center, at 407-500-4673.
Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings in a statement said he was “disappointed in the outcome.”
“This has been an emotional event for our community and many may feel that justice has not prevailed; however, the system of justice has spoken and we should look to the continued healing for the families and our entire community so that this event will not define us,” he said.
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