ORLANDO ― Noor Salman, widow of the Pulse nightclub shooter, gave her husband the “green light” to commit terrorism, a federal prosecutor told jurors on Wednesday.
“None of the victims that night knew the horrific events that were about to unfold. No one knew ― except for two people,” Assistant U.S. Attorney James Mandolfo said. “Omar Mateen and his wife.”
Salman, 31, is charged with aiding and abetting her husband’s 2016 attack on Pulse nightclub in Florida and obstructing justice. She has pleaded not guilty. In the courtroom, she sat between her two defense attorneys with a blanket in her lap, occasionally taking notes and sipping water.
The attack claimed the lives of 49 people, making it the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history at the time. Salman is the only one charged in the crime. Mateen died in a shootout with police after pledging allegiance to ISIS.
During opening statements, attorneys for both sides painted competing portraits of the defendant.
Mandolfo told jurors that Salman was aware that her husband planned to attack Pulse, and nonchalantly shopped for leather biker jackets online while he sprayed bullets into club-goers. Defense attorney Linda Moreno countered that far from being a conspirator, Salman was completely in the dark about her husband’s twisted plot, and was herself a victim of his violence.
“Her only sin was that she married a monster,” she said. “She was unknowing and unaware of his plans.”
Mandolfo laid out a timeline of events that he said would prove Salman not only knew about her husband’s plan but would show she encouraged and assisted him.
He told jurors that Salman joined Mateen on trips to scout potential locations and to buy ammunition. The couple planned extensively for Mateen’s death, he said, by adding Salman as the death beneficiary of Mateen’s bank account and by purchasing assets, such as jewelry, which she could later sell. In an 11-day period, the couple spent around $30,000, he said.
The government doesn’t have to prove that the steps Salman allegedly took to further the crime were as big as her husband’s, he added.
The prosecution’s strongest piece of evidence is a statement Salman gave FBI agents in the hours following the massacre in which she said she knew about Mateen’s plans to attack Pulse.
Moreno, Salman’s attorney, described Salman as “simple” and easily manipulated, and said her client was coerced into a false confession by FBI agents trained in the Reid technique, a popular method of interrogation that some say intentionally misleads suspects. Forensic evidence will prove that the claims made in the alleged confession are false, she said.
She roundly rejected the government’s depiction of Salman, describing her as an apolitical, devoted mother who was abused by Mateen throughout their marriage. Salman has alleged that Mateen physically assaulted her, raped her, threatened to kill her and controlled her daily activities.
“She was not his partner, she was not his peer, and she certainly was not his confidant,” she said, calling Mateen a sadist and a compulsive liar who often cheated on his wife.
Salman, who has a 5-year-old son, has been incarcerated since her arrest in January 2017. She is in protective custody and spends 23 hours a day alone, family spokesperson Susan Clary said. She has not seen her son, though she is allowed to speak to him on the phone each day.
“Her son knows that his father is dead. He knows that his father was bad and killed a bunch of people. He doesn’t understand why his mother is in jail for something his father did,” Clary told HuffPost on Tuesday, standing across the street from the facility where Salman is currently being held.
Salman’s family says the version of her presented by federal prosecutors is wildly inaccurate.
Her aunt, Susan Adieh, called Salman “sweet” and nonviolent, and said she is traumatized by her violent marriage to Mateen.
“We know she’s no part of this,” she said. “None.”
Melissa Jeltsen will be reporting from the trial. Follow her for updates.