ORLANDO, Fla. (CBSNewYork/AP) — The widow of the gunman who killed 49 people at a nightclub in Orlando has been acquitted on charges of lying to the FBI and helping her husband in the 2016 attack.
Noor Salman was found not guilty of charges of obstruction and providing material support to a terrorist organization. She had faced life in prison if convicted.
After the verdicts were read, Salman began sobbing with joy and her family held each other. On the other side of the courtroom, the families of the victims of the Pulse shooting sat stone-faced and silent.
Salman was married to Omar Mateen when he attacked the Pulse nightclub in 2016. He was killed by police.
“We’re 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,” Salman family spokesperson Susan Clary said outside the courthouse Friday. “Really, that’s the top, most important thing that the family wants you all to know.”
She said Salman can now go home to her son and “resume her life and try to pick up the pieces from 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,” Clary said. “For those people who still think that there’s a question, there is no question. A judge has decided.”
On Twitter, the Orlando Police Department posted a statement from Chief John Mina in response to the verdict.
“I believe in our criminal justice system and am grateful for the jury’s hard work and thoughtful deliberation,” the statement said. “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. I want to thank the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Florida and the FBI, who have worked tirelessly on this case in the quest for justice.”
The statement said “our community is strong, and the men and women of the Orlando Police Department stand ready to put themselves in harm’s way to protect our residents and visitors.”
Jurors deliberated over three days before reaching their verdict. They asked several questions about the charges Salman faced and closely examined the statement she made to the FBI in the hours after the attack.
Prosecutors said Salman and her husband scouted out potential targets together — including Disney World’s shopping and entertainment complex — and she knew he was buying ammunition for his AR-15 in preparation for a jihadi attack.
She knew that he had a sick fascination with violent jihadi videos and an affinity for Islamic State group websites and gave him a “green light to commit terrorism,” prosecutors said.
Defense attorneys described Salman as an easily manipulated woman with a low IQ. They said Salman, who was born in California to Palestinian parents, was abused by her husband, who cheated on her with other women and concealed much of his life from her.
Attorney Charles Swift argued there was no way Salman knew that Mateen would attack the Pulse nightclub because even he didn’t know he would attack it until moments before the shooting. His intended target was the Disney Springs complex, prosecutors said.
“It’s a horrible, random, senseless killing by a monster,” Swift said during closing arguments. “But it wasn’t preplanned. The importance to this case is that if he didn’t know, she couldn’t know.”
Salman’s statement to the FBI in the hours after the attack appeared to play a key role in the case. In the statement, Salman said over “the last two years, Omar talked to me about jihad.”
She claimed her husband didn’t use the internet in their home, but he did. She told investigators that Mateen had deactivated his Facebook account in 2013, but they found that he had an account up until the month of the shooting — and was friends with his wife. She said her husband only had one gun when he had three, and that he wasn’t radicalized.
Mateen had pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group before he was killed.
Salman also advised Mateen to lie to his mother when she inquired about his whereabouts on the night of the shooting, prosecutors said.
Defense attorneys said the FBI coerced Salman’s statement and she signed it because she was tired after extensive questioning and feared losing her young son. They fought to have it thrown out.
Jurors asked to review the statement more closely a couple of hours into their deliberations and the judge obliged, printing off copies for them.
During the trial, prosecutors said Mateen, who was born in New York to Afghan immigrants, intended to attack Disney World’s shopping and entertainment complex by hiding a gun in a stroller but became spooked by police and instead chose the gay club as his target.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Sara Sweeney showed surveillance video of the Disney Springs complex that captured Mateen walking near the House of Blues club in the hours before the Pulse attack. In it, he looks behind him at police officers standing nearby before deciding to leave.
“He had to choose a new target,” she said.
Salman’s attorney took the jury through the hours of her life before the attack. She called a friend and her uncle in California, saying that she was coming to visit and that Mateen would be joining them.
She talked with her in-laws, ate at Applebee’s and texted Mateen. He didn’t respond. She later went on Facebook, read a book and then texted Mateen again.
“You know you work tomorrow,” she wrote.
He responded: “You know what happened?”
She wrote, “What happened?”
Then he sent his last text: “I love you babe.”
Salman did not testify in her defense.
(© Copyright 2018 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)