Updated at 11:11 a.m. ET
Noor Salman, widow of the gunman who opened fire on an Orlando nightclub in 2016, has been found not guilty on both the counts she faced. U.S. District Judge Paul Byron announced the verdict Friday, roughly one month after the trial opened.
Salman was the only person charged in connection with the massacre that left 50 people — including her husband, Omar Mateen — dead at Pulse nightclub. She stood accused of helping Mateen prepare for and plan the 2016 massacre at the nightclub and of obstructing investigators’ efforts after the killing.
Her defense team argued that far from being an eager collaborator, Salman was instead a “simple woman” with a low IQ, susceptible to influence and abused by Mateen. While prosecutors asserted that Noor had given misleading statements to state and federal investigators, the defense maintained that she had been manipulated and mistreated during these interrogations.
Later in the trial, Salman’s attorneys also called for Byron to declare a mistrial or dismiss the case outright, saying the prosecution had withheld crucial information for the development of their argument. It was not until after the prosecution had rested its case, nearly two weeks after the trial opened, that prosecutors disclosed the information in an email last Saturday.
Among those key details, according to the defense filing, was the fact that Mateen’s father had worked as a confidential informant for the FBI at various points over more than a decade leading right up to the June 2016 shooting. The filing noted that federal authorities had also opened an investigation of Seddique Mateen after the shooting, basing the probe on a series of money transfers he made to Turkey and Afghanistan not long before the massacre.
The defense argued that without those details, the defense had been unfairly hamstrung — an assertion that Byron rejected. He denied the motion earlier this week and allowed the trial to proceed.
Ultimately, though, the jury sided with the defense anyway, acquitting Noor Salman of both charges: aiding and abetting the provision of material support to a foreign terrorism organization — in this case, the Islamic State, to whom Omar Mateen pledged his allegiance during the attack — and obstruction of justice.
Salman bowed her head and cried in relief as the verdict was read, according to reporters inside the courtroom. Her defense team and family exchanged hugs.
“I believe in our criminal justice system and am grateful for the jury’s hard work and deliberation,” Orlando Police Chief John Mina said in a statement released after the verdict, also thanking prosecutors and law enforcement. “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.”
“We are very sorry for the family members and friends of the 49 victims of the Pulse nightclub shooting and also the survivors of that horrible attack,” a family spokesperson told reporters outside the courtroom.
“Noor can go home now to her son,” the spokesperson added, “resume her life and try to pick up the pieces from more than two years in jail. We really hope the best for her future, and we want people to know that she is not guilty. She is innocent. There is no question: A judge has decided.”
“Our belief in the process was affirmed today,” defense attorney Linda Moreno said.
That respect for the process was echoed in Pulse owner Barbara Poma’s statement after the verdict.
“Those of us directly affected by this tragedy must find peace in our hearts and remember that [Mateen] was the one who pulled the trigger that night,” she added. “He was the perpetrator, and he should not have one more minute of power over our lives.”
You want to know what is really going on these days, especially in Colorado. We can help you keep up. The Lookout is a free, daily email newsletter with news and happenings from all over Colorado. Sign up here and we will see you in the morning!