The widow of the gunman who slaughtered 49 people in a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, was Friday acquitted of the charge of helping to plot the attack and lying to the FBI later, a rare and stinging defeat for the U.S. government in a terrorism case.
Noor Salman, 31, wept in the hearing of the jury’s verdict of not guilty of obstruction and the provision of material support to a terrorist organization, charges that could have led to life in prison. Her family gasped every time the words “not guilty” pronounced.
On the other side of the Orlando courtroom, the families of the victims of the June 2016 Pulse night club shoot sat stone-faced and silent.
Within the hour, Salman was released from prison after 14 months and got into a car waiting, without answering questions.
“Noor is so grateful. Her faith in the process is shown. She wants to go back to her son,” her lawyer, Linda Moreno said. Family spokeswoman Susan Clary said Salman’s family “always thought that Noor was the first victim” of her husband, Omar Mateen.
The verdict reverberated through Orlando and in legal circles beyond.
“The government rarely, rarely lose these types of cases. It has all factors on his side,” said David Oscar Markus, a Miami attorney who routinely tries federal cases. “It’s a pretty impressive victory for the defense and a devastating loss for the government.”
Mateen, the american-born son of Afghan immigrants, was killed by police after opening fire in the name of the Islamic State of the group.
Relying heavily on an alleged confession of Salman, federal prosecutors charged that she and Mateen had scouted out potential targets together — including Disney World’s shopping and entertainment complex — and then she gave him the “green light to commit terrorism.”
But the defense portrayed her as an easily manipulated woman with a low IQ and argued that she signed a false confession, because she was tired after a long interrogation and feared the loss of her son.
In a blow for the government in the matter of the FBI itself found that receipts and mobile phone signals showed the couple was nowhere in the vicinity of the Pulse on the day Salman said that they were.
Also, prosecutors introduced no online messages, texts or any other proof that Salman supported ISIS, and were hard-pressed to counter the defense’s portrayal of her as a simple, sweet mother, who loves her 5-year-old son, novels, and the cartoon character Hello Kitty.
After the verdict, the public prosecutor said that they were disappointed and took no questions.
The judges said little as they left court.
“Noor Salman should never have been on trial,” said Ahmed Bedier, a civil rights advocate and the president of the United Voices of America. “Let this verdict serve as a message to law enforcement and prosecutors who railroad and prosecution of innocent people on little evidence, the people of this great nation will not allow it.”
Experienced lawyers said that the government has made an error in not recording the alleged confession. The jury was given only a written statement.
“The FBI needs to start with the recording of their statements. It is a terrible practice. But it is FBI policy not to record,” Markus said. “Even the local police agencies are now recording statements and are required to do this. Jurors in the current era want to hear the recording, they want the evidence.”
Miami lawyer David Weinstein said: “as much as we don’t want to admit it, this is the era of the mobile phone. It is ingrained in the minds of the jurors, if it is not included, it didn’t happen.”
Christine Leinonen, a lawyer and a former state trooper whose only son was killed in the nightclub of the massacre, told The Orlando Sentinel she was disappointed, but not shocked by the verdict. She said Salman’s alleged confession was “forced” and added: “the Police screw their own affairs.”
Prosecutors had also accused Salman falsely claiming that her husband made no use of the internet in their house, that he had deactivated his Facebook account years earlier, he had a gun when he was three, and that he was not radicalized.
But the defence said that Salman, who was born in California to Palestinian parents, was abused and deceived by her husband and that he has hidden part of his life from her. Her lawyers argued that there was no way she knew that her husband an attack of the disco because he didn’t know it until moments before.
According to the prosecutor, Mateen intended to attack Disney World’s shopping and entertainment complex by hiding a weapon in a baby stroller, but was chased by the police and chose a new target audience.
Lush reported from St. Petersburg, Florida.
This story has been corrected to show that Bedier is with a United Voice of America.