The wife of Omar Mateen, the accused shooter in the Pulse Nightclub massacre, was acquitted of all charges in federal court at the end of March. Noor Salman had been accused of aiding her husband in the attack and obstructing justice. However, the jury in her case found the evidence against her unconvincing and voted unanimously to acquit her on all charges.
George Tragos, a criminal law attorney with the law firm of Tragos, Sartes & Tragos, has represented high-profile clients in criminal cases for the last 30 years, and spent several years as a Federal prosecutor. Tragos said that “an acquittal in this case is not particularly surprising. The prosecution was not able to prove that the FBI was obstructed based on what Salman had told them in her interviews.” The FBI already had the information that they were asking Salman to provide, and therefore were not obstructed from procuring new information.
Additionally, proving that Salman was guilty of aiding a terrorist organization was unlikely. They were trying to use the statements of Mateen to Salman – that he was a member of ISIS and believed in jihad – to connect her directly to terrorism. However, the argument that her apparent indifference to the statements made her supporter of terrorism, according to Tragos, was “a real stretch since indifference does not equate compliance under the law, nor does it serve as sufficient evidence for a legal conviction.”
Interestingly, the jury’s foreman indicated in an interview that the jury was firmly convinced that Salman knew of the attack, saying “she may not have known what day, or what location,” but she most certainly knew Mateen was planning an attack.
However, the foreman said he and the other jurors concluded that her knowledge of the attack was not their charge; instead, they had been charged with determining the other items, and on those items, it was impossible to do anything other than acquit.
“The burden of proof is on the prosecution,” said Tragos. “It is the prosecution’s job to put forward evidence that will convince a jury that an individual is guilty.” The prosecution simply was not able to provide that evidence and meet that burden, because the evidence itself was simply too circumstantial.