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Prosecutors Rest Case Against Noor Salman, Saying She Knew Pulse Would Be Attacked

Noor Salman

Government lawyers say the widow of the Pulse shooter knew Omar Mateen was going to murder gay club-goers -- and she didn't tell anyone.

Prosecutors have rested their case against the wife of Pulse shooter Omar Mateen, and defense attorneys today will bring their own line-up of experts and witnesses to counter the government's arguments. So will the evidence presented by the U.S. District Attorney's Office convince a jury that Noor Salman aided a terrorist and obstructed justice? Judge by the case so far:

The Trial of Omar Mateen

Mateen died in Pulse on June 12, 2016, after engaging law enforcement for hours. That means prosecutors never had the chance to bring legal charges, and the ongoing federal trial in Orlando serves in many ways as a show trial. But it's also important for the prosecution's case to prove Mateen committed terrorism; otherwise what did Salman aid or abet?

That meant in the first days of testimony a parade of survivors and first responders took the stand. That started with Officer Adam Gruler, the off-duty cop guarding Pulse the night of the shooting. Gruler described how Mateen engaged him with a long gun and a pistol the shooter had grabbed while Gruler was away from the entrance searching for an underage individual who tried to get in the club that night. Survivors Bobby Rodriguez and Nelson Rodriguez took the stand to describe the grisly scene inside the club as Mateen started shooting individuals.

Then jurors witnessed the shooting first-hand. For the first time since the attack, surveillance tape from inside the club showed Mateen at a bar for more than 10 minutes, then captured him returning with his firearms before shooting into a crowded dance floor and walking around the club hunting more victims. Police officers took the stand to describe entering the club minutes later and walking through pools of blood while hearing the sounds of gun shots and ringing cell phones. Ultimately, 49 people besides Mateen died in Pulse, a gay nightclub hosting Latin Night.

Defense attorneys argue that none of this has to do with Salman, and along the way filed motions to suppress the evidence from being shown to a jury. By being shown in open court, the videos have also been released to the public (The Advocate will not show video of the shooting).

But Did She Know?

Of course, Salman faces charges here, and to the defense, these details serve only to upset jurors. "Omar Mateen is a monster," defense attorney Linda Moreno said in opening statements. But Salman? "She is a mother, not a monster."

Much of the case hangs on the credibility of evolving statements Salman gave to the FBI the day of the shooting. Thise statements, written out by Special Agent Ricardo Enriquez, suggest Mateen told Salman he planned to target Pulse or Downtown Disney in a terrorist attack. In the statement, Salman says Mateen had been watching jihadi videos at home, he'd grabbed bags of ammunition before leaving his home the night before the attack, and that he'd driven around Pulse a week prior with Salman in the car as he outlined his plans.

Incidentally, that last point has created the most headaches for prosecutors because cell phone data offers no evidence that ever happened. On Thursday, the last day the prosecution called witnesses to the stand, the timing of that revelation led the judge to question an FBI agent about process. Special Agent Richard Fennern testified that the FBI knew within a few days of the shooting the GPS data failed to back up this part of Salman's statement. District Court Judge Paul Bryant questioned Fennern outside of jury view on this, stating "I think I've kicked a beehive," noting that the original indictment for Salman, issued in January of 2017, still listed her potential presence at a casing of Pulse as part of the government's case. The revelation the FBI knew shortly after the attack that this part of the story lacked credibility drew heavy criticism from anti-government voices like out investigative journalist Glenn Greenwald.

Still, even dismissing every word of the statement penned by Enriquez, there's damning parts of the document written in Salman's own handwriting, particularly when considering the obstruction of justice charge. "I am very sorry I lied to the FBI," Salman wrote herself at the end of a statement. "These are my words."

Lavish spending

Prosecutors also went over in great detail the inordinate amount of spending that took place in the Mateen household. FBI Special Agent Christopher Mayo found documentation for much of that spending in receipts discovered when he retrieved Salman's purse from her apartment at her request.

In addition to spending more than $1,800 on an AR-15-style rifle, Mateen purchased a Glock and several speed loaders for a .38 pistol he left inside his vehicle when he started shooting people in Pulse, though Salman's attorneys say she had no idea he'd spent so much on firearms even when he made ammo purchases at Walmart and Bass Pro Shops during visits in which Salman was present. A video shown this week shows Mateen alone at the cash register at Bass Pro before Salman walks up with the couple's child and pushes for the family to leave the store, and Salman never looks directly into the shopping cart in the video.

Mateen also spent more than $680 on Michael Kors goods for Salman, and started taking her to jewelers, where he spent $8,000 on jewelry, including a second wedding ring. The Mateen family took a special trip to Disney World a week before the shooting. The couple purchased expensive lingerie from Victoria's Secret and Mateen started making regular withdrawals from PNC Bank. Assistant U.S. Attorney James Mandolfo says the couple spent upward of $30,000 in an 11-day period before the attack, roughly the same as his annual salary as a security guard. And shortly before the attack, Mateen added Salman's name to bank accounts so she could access the money in the event of his death.

And the day before leaving for Orlando, Mateen purchased plane tickets for the family to visit California, where Salman's family lives. FBI agents testified this seemed like it could be either an escape plan had Mateen survived or part of a cover story to make it look like Salman had been in the dark about the attack.

Finding Nemo

But the greatest contention in court may be the meaning behind a text sent by Salman before the shooting. As Mateen drove to Orlando, Salman sent her husband a text. "If ur mom calls say nimo invited you out and noor wants to stay home. She asked where you were xoxo. Love you." Mateen didn't immediately receive that text; he'd turned his cell phone off during the drive to Orlando. But prosecutors say that showed active participation by Salman in providing an alibi to Mateen. Defense attorneys say Mateen's mother invited the family to dinner related to Ramadan, and that Mateen had deceived Salman about his whereabouts that night.

Salman apparently misspelled the name Nemo, a childhood friend of Mateen's (Nemo's last name has never been released). But Mateen's mother ran into Nemo's mother at mosque and learned that friend was in Washington, D.C. She'd called Salman up in the middle of the night asking about that.

Still, Salman told FBI agents the morning of the shooting the same story, that her husband was out with Nemo. This actually led the FBI to contact Orlando law enforcement in the midst of the standoff and relay there may be a second shooter. Officers searched every living victim for weapons before taking them away from the scene as a result. It wasn't until word reached Nemo in Washington and he called police himself to explain his whereabouts that police ruled out that he may be with Mateen at the club.

Nemo's mother took the stand in the trial to relay her conversation with Mateen's mother. But to date, Nemo has not appeared in court. Defense attorneys say jurors will hear his words though. Moreno says Nemo in fact was Mateen's go-to alibi for his whereabouts when in fact he was out cheating on Salman.

But prosecutors suggest that Salman sending a text about this cover story, and deleting it while leaving texts like "Habibi what happened?!" in her phone, proves culpability in the attack on Pulse.

What Now?

Defense attorneys on Thursday filed a motion for the judge to acquit Salman on grounds prosecutors had not made their case, labeling much of it as "scant evidence" of aiding terrorism. But Bryant denied that motion on both counts. Now defense attorneys plan to bring their own witnesses. Those will likely include psychological experts who will testify to Salman's low intelligence and propensity to make a false confession to the FBI, along with evidence Mateen beat Salman.

Prosecutors and defense attorneys on Friday spend much of Friday debating the finer points of jury instructions. By week's end, the decision should be in the hands of the jury, who will decide her guilt and innocence. And if convicted, the question will be whether Salman spends the rest of her life in jail.

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