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Trial of Pulse Shooter Widow Begins: Noor Salman Told Cops Mateen 'Loves America, Likes Homosexuals'

Noor Mateen

The widow of the man who killed 49 people at an Orlando gay club claims she didn't know the attack was coming, but she oddly told police Omar Mateen did not hate gay people.

While the FBI won't say the 2016 shooting of an Orlando gay bar was a hate crime, prosecutors in the opening statements in a trial for the shooter's widow say the defendant went out of her way to tell law enforcement her husband "loves America and likes homosexuals."

Two days after prosecutors confirmed to a judge they would not suggest Pulse shooter Omar Mateen targeted the gay community, that interaction between defendant Noor Salman and Fort Pierce Detective William Hall would be among the very few mentions government attorneys would make about the impact of the crime on the LGBT community. Instead, prosecutors focused on evidence that Salman knew her husband had been radicalized by online videos. Salman faces life in prison if convicted on counts of aiding a known terrorist and obstructing justice.

Mateen opened fire inside Pulse on June 12, 2016, before later being killed by law enforcement after an hours-long standoff. In addition to Mateen, 49 people died in the attack and 53 were injured.

In laying out the case against Salman, U.S. Assistant Attorney James Mandalfo leaned heavily on Mateen's frequent viewing of extremist videos online as proof the soon-to-be shooter became "obsessed with ISIS." Salman's protestations to police that her husband would only use guns to protect himself -- before she was told about the shooting -- and her insistence that Mateen felt a kinship between Muslims and homosexuals because both groups faced discrimination in the United States marked some of the first moments when she would mislead authorities, Mandolfo argued.

The federal government turned quickly to terrorism as the motivation for the attack, noting Mateen's calls to police expressing allegiance to the Islamic State and a post on Facebook identifying ISIS leaders by name to show an extremism the killer would not have kept secret from his spouse, especially since he'd been interviewed by the FBI for terrorist sympathies before and during the course of Mateen and Salman's marriage.

Defense attorneys for Salman in their own opening statement argued that Salman remained in the dark about the shooting until it happened. Salman attorney Linda Moreno says FBI agents coerced incriminating statements out of Salman during 20 hours of interrogation the day of the shooting, noting none of that questioning happened with an attorney present and that none of it was recorded on audio or video.

And Moreno says many of the things allegedly said in a sworn statement, written out by an FBI agent and signed by Salman, could be proven false using forensic evidence. Phone records, for example, don't show that Salman ever visited the site of Pulse with her husband, or that Mateen ever visited the club before the night of the shooting. Evidence does show Mateen drove to the nightclubs Disney Springs and EVE Orlando before going to Pulse in the early hours of June 12.

Moreno said Salman had no knowledge her husband planned an attack and thought he had gone out that evening with a childhood friend, referred to as Nemo. That friend, Moreno says, will testify in the trial that Mateen regularly used him as an alibi while Mateen cheated on Salman. Over the course of the morning, Moreno painted Salman as a hapless and abused wife, who when contacted by Mateen in the club reminded him he needed to get home because he had work in the morning.

She says only Mateen should be held responsible for the attack. "Omar Mateen was crazy and twisted," she said. "He was a monster."

Ahmed Bedler, president of United Voices for America, spoke outside a federal courthouse today with the family of Salman. The Muslim activist said it is important hate not taint the trial. He says investigators in the immediate aftermath of the shooting went after Salman with a conclusion already in mind. "It seems they went in with a certain mindset and nothing was going to sway them away," he said.

He defended a strategy for Salman's defense that argues Mateen never targeted gay people. While he says it's tragic such a large number of gay people died in the attack, evidence shows Mateen visited other locales that night. "To honor the victims," he said, "you have to get at the truth."

While many crimes like this are hate crimes, he said that doesn't seem to be the case here.

And while prosecutors say they don't intend to identify homophobia as motive in the attack, Bedler believes that facet to be "the heart of their case." Evidence that Mateen hadn't selected a target until the night of the shooting, Bedler said, undermines whether Salman could possibly of known the shooting would take place.

The off-duty police officer providing security at Pulse the night of the shooting also took the stand and described how Mateen made it inside before opening fire in one of the deadliest mass shootings in history.

Gruler says he spent most of the night guarding the parking lot of the club, and had left the entrance to Pulse for around 30 minutes to track down an underage person who tried to get into the gay bar. That person was never apprehended, Gruler says. But Gruler returned to see Mateen with an assault-style weapon entering the club and exchanged fire. He backed off and called for backup, a practice that has recently drawn criticism after an officer in Parkland, Fla., failed to enter a high school during another mass shooting.

Gruler spoke to The Advocate after testifying but declined to say if he'd have acted differently in retrospect. "There may have been many similarities [with Parkland]," he said, "but the situations are also vastly different." He stressed that the Orlando community continues to heal after the Pulse attack, where 49 were killed, and said he applauds all first responders to the attack.

But one mother who lose a child at Pulse spoke to reporters and offered a different message. Christine Leinonen, who lost son Christopher "Drew" Leinon and his boyfriend Juan Guerrero in the 2016 shooting, criticized Gruler by name and also said police failed to rescue enough victims. Specifically, she said that when cops fled the club thinking Mateen had a bomb, they should have taken victims out rather than leaving some 50 people in the club. Of Gruler, she said, "as I cry for my own son, he should cry for his own children."

Police dashcam footage has been released that shows Gruler outside the club when other officers arrived, firing at Mateen, who Gruler indicated to officers was on an outside porch at Pulse at that moment.

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