Opening statements in Noor Salman trial to begin in federal court

By Greg Angel , Reporter
Last Updated: Tuesday, March 13, 2018, 5:13 PM EDT

Opening statements will be presented Wednesday in the trial against Noor Salman, the widow of Pulse nightclub gunman Omar Mateen.

Salman is accused of helping her husband plan his deadly June 12, 2016 attack that killed 49 people.

Prosecutors and defense attorneys are expected to take about one hour each to begin laying out their arguments.

A pool of 18 people will have to absorb three weeks of testimony, and at times graphic evidence, as prosecutors try to build a case against Salman.

They contend as Omar Mateen became radicalized by terrorist group ISL, Salman knowingly helped her husband scope out Pulse nightclub for the attack, as well as other potential targets that include Eve nightclub in downtown Orlando and Disney Springs at Walt Disney World.

Prosecutors will tell jurors that Salman was complicit in large purchases of thousands of dollars’ worth of firearms and ammunition used in the attack, as well as expensive jewelry.

Defense attorneys dismiss those arguments, saying Salman was a victim of abusive behavior by a controlling husband and was never aware of her husband’s intentions.

In eight days of jury selection, Judge Paul Byron reiterated the need for jurors to remain fair and impartial when weighing the evidence and testimony presented.

The final jury

In consideration of the high-profile nature of the trial, Byron has also taken additional steps to ensure the privacy of jurors. Each will be addressed only by an assigned number and will park off-site before being escorted to court by U.S. Marshals.

The pool of 18 is composed of 12 women and 6 men.

The list of actual jurors remains only known to Judge Byron, prosecutors, and defense attorneys. Those in the pool of 18 don’t even know who among them are a part of the 12 jurors and who are a part of the 6 alternates.

In the end, only the 12 jurors will decide Salman’s fate.

“That’s on purpose,” said David Haas, who’s had experience as a State Attorney and federal prosecutor, and now works as a criminal defense attorney in federal cases. 

“That’s so if you know you’re an alternate going in, you may not pay as much attention, and often times things happen in people’s lives where somebody who is on the jury needs to actually step off or be removed … so they’ve been paying equal attention to the testimony,” he added.

The pool in which they were selected from included more than 108 people questioned.

Before final selection, the larger pool included 15 white men, 28 white women, 2 black men, 3 black women, 3 Hispanic men, and 3 Hispanic women.

With the added measures of privacy in place, it will be harder for the public to know intimate details about jurors, thus lowering the pressure they may feel to return a particular verdict.

“They’re doing everything they can to ensure that the jury is protected, because they have most important mission, which is to determine what happened and what Ms. Salman knew and what she didn’t know,” Haas said.

The final jury comes from a pool that included college students, retirees, tax accounts, nurses, computer engineers and stay-at-home moms.

Careers and life experiences can influence insight given to a jury during deliberations.

“A person’s job in a lot of ways tells who they are … they now have a quasi-expert potentially on the panel if somebody was selected,” Haas said. “You can try to create a panel that strengthens your case if people know about particular types of information.”

At the end of the three-week trial, jurors will be given as much time as they wish to deliberate.

Any decision, guilty or not guilty, has to be unanimous. If just one person stands against the majority sway of the jury, they will be considered deadlocked. In the event of a hung jury, prosecutors will be allowed to decide whether to try the case again.

Should the jury return a unanimous guilty verdict, defense attorneys can appeal. However, prosecutors may not appeal a unanimous not guilty verdict.