A federal jury found Noor Salman not guilty on Friday of charges that she aided and abetted her late husband Omar Mateen in his ISIS-linked jihad attack on the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida.
Salman was also acquitted on charges of obstructing justice by giving misleading statements to law enforcement officers after the massacre.
In some of those statements, she admitted she knew her husband was devouring Islamic State propaganda and stockpiling weapons, and at one point said she helped him scout locations for his attack, but the defense successfully argued these were false confessions obtained under pressure and unsupported by the evidence.
As NBC News puts it, the defense argued that Salman was a “physically abused woman who had a low IQ and was easily intimidated,” and her false confessions were made because she was “tired after a long interrogation by the FBI” and afraid of losing custody of her son.
“She doesn’t go to the mosque, she searches for Hello Kitty on her website. We’re supposed to believe she had long conversations with Omar Mateen about jihads?” the defense said in its closing argument.
The New York Times describes the verdict as a “rare setback for federal prosecutors, who have a strong record of winning convictions in terrorism trials.”
The defense moved for a mistrial this week when prosecutors belatedly admitted that Omar Mateen’s father Seddique Mateen was an FBI informant for over ten years, a fact the defense said would have influenced its arguments.
According to the New York Times, Salman “openly sobbed” when the final not-guilty verdict was read, as did family members present in the courtroom and her defense attorneys. On the other hand, “Pulse victims and their families sat in stone-faced silence,” and left the courtroom without making a statement to the media.
“The family really wants to first say that 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. Noor can go home now to her son, Zack, resume her life and try to pick up the pieces,” a spokesman for Noor Salman’s family said after the verdict.
Salman was arrested in January 2017 and has been in detention ever since. The charges could have put her in prison for life if she had been convicted.