Prosecutors won’t say the shooter at Pulse targeted the Orlando club because it was a gay bar, according to lawyers trying his widow in federal court.
According to the Orlando Sentinel, Assistant U.S. Attorney Sara Sweeney told a judge Monday that while prosecutors plan to make the case that Noor Salman knew her husband, Omar Mateen, was planning an attack, they won’t suggest homophobia played a role. “We never contemplated arguing that Mr. Mateen was targeting a gay club,” Sweeney said in court Monday. “This was a terrorist attack.”
Opening statements begin Wednesday in Salman’s trial. She faces life in prison if convicted on counts of aiding a known terrorist and obstruction justice.
Last week, Salman’s defense team filed a motion asking the judge to forbid prosecutors from suggesting Mateen targeted a gay bar. Defense attorney Charles Swift argued cell phone records show Mateen visited multiple locations including Disney Springs and EVE Orlando before going to Pulse.
Mateen started shooting inside Pulse shortly after 2 a.m. on June 12, 2016. Law enforcement officers killed Mateen after an hours-long shoot-out. In addition to Mateen, 49 others died in the massacre.
While defense attorneys argue Mateen did not have a target in mind when he left his Fort Pierce home, prosecutors’ case hangs largely on conflicting statements Salman made to FBI agents in the early hours of June 12. FBI agent Christopher Mayo says Salman insisted her husband liked gay people, even before agents informed her Mateen attacked a gay club. Later, Salman signed a statement produced by the FBI that said she was with Mateen when he scouted the Pulse site, driving around the club for 20 minutes. She also said she found Mateen looking at the website for Pulse and that he told her, “This is my target.”
Pulse regulars told The Advocate and other media that Mateen regularly visited Pulse before the attack. Individuals inside the club say he was in the club for some time the night of the attack before returning to his vehicle to get his guns. Cell phone records show he arrived at Pulse about a half hour before shooting began. And Mateen’s ex-wife, Sitora Yusify, says Mateen was a closeted homosexual who attacked the club to impress his father.
But the FBI has declined to classify the shooting as a hate crime.
Defense attorneys have indicated they will argue Salman was distraught and prone to making a false confession when she made conflicting statements to the FBI.