The widow of Omar Mateen, who shot and killed 49 people and injured dozens more in a Florida nightclub two years ago, was found not guilty of all charges related to her husband’s act of terror.
Mateen, a 29-year-old security guard, opened fire on Pulse, a gay nightclub, on June 12, 2016, and then pledged allegiance to ISIS before dying in a gunfight with law enforcement.
Jurors handed down the verdict for his widow, Noor Salman, 31, on the third day of deliberations. She faced life in prison on charges of providing material support to the Islamic State group, through aiding and abetting Mateen. She was also charged with obstruction of justice for allegedly lying to FBI agents in interviews following the attack.
During the eight-day trial, Salman did not testify on her own behalf. Prosecutors argued that she knew about her husband’s plot — even though he allegedly originally planned to target Disney Springs right up until the night of the shooting. Prosecutors also alleged that Salman knew Mateen had stockpiled ammunition and that she’d told him to lie about his whereabouts that night to his mother.
“This case is about what she knew and what she did,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Sara Sweeney told jurors during closing arguments on Wednesday. “The defendant didn’t pull the trigger that night, but she did serve as a green light for her husband.”
Salman’s defense attorneys, however, cast her as a victim of her husband’s physical and sexual abuse, as well as a victim of Islamophobia. A psychologist called to the stand by the defense on Tuesday testified that Salman was “not the brightest of all people” and had an IQ in the lower 14th percentile, which made her especially vulnerable to being coerced into making false statements.
Salman had told the FBI that four days before the attack she had dinner with Mateen at Disney Springs (then known as Downtown Disney) and drove around Pulse nightclub for 20 minutes afterward. “‘How upset are people going to be when it gets attacked?” Salman told the FBI she recalled Mateen saying.
But Salman’s defense attorneys argued that her husband led a secretive life, much of which his wife wasn’t privy to.
Expert witnesses called by both sides also contradicted Salman’s apparent confession; Special Agent Richard Fennern said that receipts and cell phone records accounted for the couple’s time that date. They also noted that Salman’s cell phone didn’t ping towers anywhere near Pulse.
Salman, the daughter of Palestinian immigrants, was born and raised in Northern California, about 25 miles northeast of San Francisco. She met Mateen, her second husband, online, and married him in 2011. They have a 5-year-old son.
“We know that Noor is an innocent child,” Susan Adieh, Salman’s aunt, told reporters on Thursday. “She’s not the kind of violent person that they [say] she is.”
Cover image: Law enforcement officials work at the Pulse gay nightclub in Orlando, Fla., following the a mass shooting. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara, File)