Noor Salman, the widow of the gunman in Orlando’s Pulse nightclub shooting, sobbed Friday as she was acquitted of providing material support to a foreign terrorist organization and of obstruction of justice in connection with her husband’s 2016 rampage.
A visibly anxious Salman, wearing a dark suit, stood in federal court as the verdict was read. She wept and heaved as her attorneys – one of them also crying – embraced her. She looked back at her relatives.
“Thank you,” she whispered to her attorneys.
An uncle, seated in court behind her, stifled a sob as other relatives held one another.
As Salman left the courtroom, she looked back at her family again, her eyes red and teary.
“Noor can go home now to her son, resume her life and try to pick up the pieces from two years in jail,” Salman family spokeswoman Susan Clary said, adding that the relatives were grateful for the verdict.
About two hours later, she left the Orange County Jail with her attorney, CNN affiliate WESH reported.
Salman, 31, was arrested in January 2017, months after her husband, Omar Mateen, killed 49 people and injured more than 50 others when he opened fire at Pulse the previous June. Police responding to the attack killed Mateen.
Prosecutors said Salman aided Mateen ahead of his killing spree, then lied to the FBI in an attempt to thwart the investigation.
Jurors began deliberating Wednesday afternoon before returning with a verdict Friday morning.
Salman’s relatives and Clary said they were sorry for the victims and survivors.
“It’s Good Friday for everybody,” said Al Salman, an uncle. “I want to say thank you, Lord, for giving my niece (freedom).”
Defense attorney Linda Moreno also expressed admiration for the victims’ families and survivors.
“We’re very grateful to this jury and to the Orlando community,” she said. “Maybe this was the only community that could do this.”
Defense attorney Charles Swift said the prosecution failed to deliver on its promises to the jury.
“The more we learned,” he said, “the better Noor Salman looked.”
He added, “This jury will stand in my mind as remarkable. … They were pillars of this community. We knew their backgrounds. They were true judges in this case.”
A community still working to heal
Assistant US Attorney Sara Sweeney, in a brief statement, said she was disappointed with the verdict but respected it. She thanked the jurors for their “hard work” and service.
Barbara Poma, founder of the onePulse Foundation, a nonprofit seeking to erect a memorial and museum at the former nightclub, said Mateen was the triggerman and “he should not have one more minute of power over our lives.”
“This verdict cannot and will not divide us,” she said in a statement. “The survivors, families, and first responders as well as the community of Orlando and everyone around the world must now focus on the work ahead of us. We will always carry the pain of what happened at Pulse, and we will never forget those who were taken.”
Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer sad on Twitter that the trial’s conclusion will help the community heal.
“We can never bring back the 49 innocent victims whose lives were taken on June 12, 2016, or erase the pain that the horrific act brought to so many, but we remain focused on helping the victims and family members continue the healing process,” Dyer said in statement.
Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings said he shared the disappointment of the victims’ families.
“This has been an emotional event for our community, and many feel that justice has not prevailed,” he said in a statement.
“However, the system of justice has spoken, and we should look to the continued healing for the families and our entire community so that this event will not define us.”
Prosecutor Sweeney asserted that the case was about what Salman “knew and what she did. The defendant didn’t pull the trigger that night, but she did serve as a green light for her husband.”
Salman’s attorneys argued that their client was not an accomplice but a simple-minded victim of her husband’s infidelity and lies.
“She doesn’t go to the mosque, she searches for Hello Kitty on her website,” Swift said in closing arguments. “We’re supposed to believe she had long conversations with Omar Mateen about jihads?”
Salman did not testify during the trial. She faced life in prison.
’I wish I had been more truthful’
During 10 days of testimony, jurors watched surveillance video showing Mateen buying weapons before the shooting and also opening fire inside the nightclub.
Security cameras also recorded Mateen going with Salman on a shopping spree for clothing, toys and jewelry at stores in central Florida at least a week beforehand.
After Salman’s arrest, she said in a statement to the FBI that she knew in advance that her husband was going to do something violent.
“I wish I had done the right thing, but my fear held me back. I wish I had been more truthful,” she wrote in the statement, which was shown in court.
FBI special agent Ricardo Enriquez testified that Salman said in several statements to the FBI that Mateen watched jihadi beheading videos, purchased a rifle and ammunition and went to a gun range to practice.
’She’s not calculating’
Defense attorneys cast Salman as a mother and a victim of Mateen’s abuse and infidelity as well as of the FBI’s coercive investigators.
“Omar Mateen is a monster. Noor Salman is a mother, not a monster. Her only sin is she married a monster,” Moreno told jurors.
Since the defense launched its case Monday, Mateen’s family and friends described her as a peaceful person and a good mother. They said Salman is not capable of being “calculating,” “deceptive” or “able to connect the dots.”
“Nothing harmful would come out of her,” a friend of Salman’s who was identified only as Ms. Ahmed told jurors, according to CNN affiliate WKMG.
Bruce Frumkin, a forensic clinical psychologist, testified Tuesday that a lack of sleep, mental issues, low IQ scores and lengthy interrogations contribute to false confessions.
Salman was interviewed by authorities for 11 hours, and her IQ score is 84, which makes her “below average in intelligence,” Frumkin said.
Gunman’s father was FBI informant
Defense attorneys filed a motion for dismissal last weekend after prosecutors informed them that the shooter’s father was an FBI informant under criminal investigation.
The revelation threatened to upend the case against Salman, but the judge denied the motion, saying it was not relevant.
Seddique Mateen was a confidential FBI source at various points between January 2005 and June 2016, a motion filed by the defense said, citing an email from Sweeney.
The email also said that Seddique Mateen was under investigation over money transfers to Turkey and Afghanistan after documents were found in his home on June 12, 2016, the day of the Pulse attack. The dates of the money transfers were between March 16 and June 5, 2016, according to the email.
Defense attorneys argued that if they had known about Seddique Mateen’s FBI status, they may have argued other theories during the trial, including that the Mateens, rather than Salman, conspired to support ISIS, according to the motion.
Seddique Mateen had been on the prosecution’s witness list but was not called to testify in the trial.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story misidentified the call letters of CNN affiliate WKMG.
CNN’s Martin Savidge and Daniel Shepherd reported from Orlando, while CNN’s Nicole Chavez wrote from Atlanta, and Eric Levenson and Ray Sanchez from New York.