Jurors at the trial of the widow of a man who shot and killed 49 people at a Florida nightclub heard emotional accounts of what unfolded that evening. On Wednesday, the first day of the trial, jurors listened to a witness who hid under a dead body for three hours as shots were fired and an Orlando police detective who choked up on the stand. They also watched a video taken during the shooting by a survivor inside the club.
Federal prosecutors are trying to link 31-year-old Noor Salman to the actions of her husband, Omar Mateen. First, they must establish that a terrorist act was committed when he killed 49 in June 2016 at the gay club in Orlando; prosecutors said he was motivated by Islamic terrorism. “This trial is about what the defendant knew,” Assistant US Attorney James Mandolfo said. “The defendant’s cold actions gave Omar Mateen a green light to commit these crimes on behalf of ISIS.”
Mateen, who had pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group, was killed by police in the hours after the shooting. At the time of the attack, it was the worst mass shooting in modern US history. The fatal shooting of 58 people in Las Vegas surpassed it last October.
Prosecutors said Salman knew Mateen was buying rounds of ammunition for his AR-15, helped him spend thousands of dollars before the attack and knew about his plan when he left the house in the hours before the shooting. They also say she lied, tried to mislead FBI agents and had knowledge of her husband’s sick fascination with violent jihadist videos and terrorism.
Mandolfo gave several examples of Salman’s conflicting statements to FBI agents in the hours after the attack. In one conversation with authorities, before they informed her of any details of the attack, she said, “My husband is safe with guns.” Said Mandolfo: “No one ever told her about guns.”
He described a wife who knowingly went to at least two locations with Mateen to “scout” sites of potential terrorist attacks. One was City Place, an open-air shopping center in West Palm Beach. The other was Disney Springs, a crowded dining and shopping area near the famed theme parks, Mandolfo said. “What would make people more upset, an attack at a club or an attack at Disney?” Mateen asked his wife, according to Mandolfo.
Salman also knew her husband was fascinated with violent jihadist videos, even pulling their 3-year-old away from the screen, Mandolfo said.
The statements she made to the FBI after the attack will be key to the trial, which continues Thursday. Salman’s attorney, Linda Moreno, argued in opening statements that some of the claims are contradicted by cellphone records and other evidence. She said Mateen decided to go to Pulse at the last minute. “Omar Mateen didn’t know where he was going that night,” she said. “And if he didn’t know, how would his wife know?”
When Salman was questioned by federal agents, she cooperated, said Moreno, adding that her client never asked for a lawyer and consented to a home search. The FBI in their hourslong questioning manipulated and coerced her, Moreno asserts. “Noor Salman denied any knowledge of Omar Mateen’s plans for hours,” she said, adding that agents told Salman that she could go to jail and not see her child.
Her attorney said Mateen had a secret life that involved meeting women online and cheating on Salman. Moreno called Mateen “misogynistic.” According to court records, Mateen abused Salman, including when she was pregnant with the couple’s child, who is now five.
Salman was arrested in 2017 in California, where she was staying with family, and has been jailed since then. US District Judge Paul G. Byron said the trial could last three weeks or more.