As a former federal prosecutor, I am often asked what my thoughts are on the federal trial of the widow of the Pulse shooter, Omar Mateen. The terrorist attack at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando galvanized the Central Florida community. #OrlandoStrong. In what, at the time, was the worst mass shooting in U.S. history, 49 people were murdered and Mateen was killed by police during the attack.
I had no involvement in the case and I do not represent Mateen’s wife, Noor Salman. However, I can share my legal analysis and lend any insight that I can during her trial. While there are similarities between a state court trial and a federal court trial, there are significant differences in a variety of ways. As a result, I have created a special blog that will appear on my website www.HaasLawPLLC.com.
While I have friends that are part of both the prosecution team and the defense team, I will do my best to provide a detailed and neutral commentary on the legal aspects of the case. I think this blog will compliment and supplement the TV legal analysis that I will continue to provide.
This will be an important trial for Central Florida, the nation, and Ms. Salman. A defendant always has a right to plead not guilty and test the government’s evidence. As in any criminal case, the government has the burden of proof and must prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt.
Salman faces charges of aiding and abetting terrorism and obstruction of justice. If convicted, she faces life up to life in prison. The government’s case will focus on Salman’s statements made during and immediately after the shooting, as well as, her “casing” locations with Mateen before the shooting. I anticipate that the public will learn many more details than what was reported and some details will contradict what some believed to be true. For example, it was revealed this week that Mateen visited two other locations, Disney Springs and Eve nightclub, right before he attacked Pulse. He likely avoided attacking those locations because numerous uniformed officers were present outside of each location. Pulse was a softer target and the defense contends that evidence shows he did not target Pulse’s gay or Hispanic patrons. The government will contend it does not matter because Mateen vowed an allegiance to ISIL during his conversations with the hostage negotiator. However, the critical question is whether Salman believed Mateen would attack somewhere and whether she helped him leading up to the attack.
In the next few days, jury selection will be completed and opening statements will begin. Each side has an opportunity to give an opening statement and these serve as a roadmap to what each believes the evidence will show. Each side will outline witnesses, exhibits and what evidence they believe will support their respective sides. Opening statements are also a time to talk about weakness or “bad facts” so that they can be explained. Even with diligent preparation, trials can be unpredictable. Witnesses often get nervous and their testimony can differ than what was anticipated. Judges can make rulings that alter strategies of either party. Evidence can have different interpretations when subjected to cross examination.
I look forward to continuing this blog during the trial. Please email me at [email protected] if you have any specific questions.