Opening statements began shortly after 9am and the versions could not be more contrasting: the government arguing Noor Salman was preparing for an attack while the defense argued she was simply preparing for the future.
Because the government has the burden of proof in a criminal case, they went first. Assistant U.S. Attorney James Mandolfo immediately began linking Salman and Mateen stating, no one knew about the anticipated terror attack “except for two people…Omar Mateen and Noor Salman.” Detailing the preparation that went into Mateen’s attack, the government said it would present evidence of how, together, they cased targets together in several cities and financially prepared for Mateen to die in the attack. Alleging Salman’s preparation consisted of this preparation, encouragement, and acts, they encouraged the jury to review the totality of evidence. Mandolfo laid out a timeline where Mateen watched ISIS propaganda videos for “years” and finally motivated to take action on June 4, 2016 when Mateen watched an ISIS spokesman call for attacks during Ramadan (also in June). The government then detailed Salman’s abnormal and inconsistent statements to the FBI. First, she stated, “Mateen likes America and likes homosexuals” before she had been told about the incident. Salman then said, “God rest his soul” before she became aware that Mateen died in the Pulse attack. Salman then allegedly stated that she saw Mateen leave the night before the shooting with a black backpack containing ammunition and a handgun that he holstered in his waist. Salman told the FBI that Mateen watched violent ISIS videos that she had to pull her son away because of the violence depicted in them. The government then outlined locations that they allege the couple cased, City Place in West Palm Beach and Disney Springs. In what the defense contends will be a “family outing”, Mateen and Salman drove around City Place at 3am with their 3 year old in the car. City Place was 60 miles from where they were staying and the couple did not stop, shop, or get out of their car while driving around for 45 minutes. According to the government, Mateen asked Salman, “How bad would it be if a club was attacked?” On another outing at Disney Springs, Mateen allegedly asked his wife if it would be more impactful to attack a club or Disney. In a very confident assertion, the government stated that they could corroborate almost everything that Salman told the FBI.
Then, the government shifted to the financial investigation noting that Mateen added Salman as a beneficiary to a bank account (the couple was anticipating a tax refund 3 days later into that account), Mateen gave Salman $1,000 cash the day before the shooting, purchased guns, and purchased items of value at a significant rate: $10,000 in 3 hours and $30,000 over the 11 days preceding the attack. Repeatedly, the prosecutor stated, “The preparation would continue.” Salman, at age 30, finally got a driver’s license, Mateen purchased ammunition with Salman at a Walmart, Mateen withdrew $5,500 cash, and Salman deposited $500 the same day of the attack. Then, in a fact that could develop more at trial, Mateen rented a car. Finally, the government detailed that Salman created a cover story and told Mateen via text to lie to his mother about where he was that night.
The defense opening was a softer in tone but was actually more insulting of Mateen. Linda Morena called Mateen a monster, a liar, a loser, psychotic, a sadist, a cheater, and a violent husband. She called “Noor” unknowing and unaware, simple, trusting and calm. She also said Salman had a low IQ and that their family took “trips” and “outings” together. The defense claimed Mateen was spending lots of money, more than his annual salary in 11 days, because he believed he would be getting a new job as a police officer. The defense alleged that the “cover story” Salman reportedly gave was actually her simply planning her future, taking a trip to California to see family, and preparing for father’s day. Arguing that even Mateen didn’t know where he was going, so how could Salman, the defense said it would show that Salman never even googled anything that night as she was shopping for a jacket online. The defense then began laying the groundwork for undermining the various statements Salman gave to the FBI and said that an expert would detail that she was more susceptible to coercion – a point that could work against her if it is taken too far.
The first witnesses took the jury right into the Pulse nightclub at the time and immediately after the attack. Bodycam footage, 911 calls, testimony from first responders – all proving that this was a terrorist attack and not a violent outburst. And all incredibly emotional and powerful.
1. The public will get to see the outcome of a modernized federal investigation of a mass shooting. That evidence goes far beyond a guy and a gun. Financial records, IRS documents, GPS and geolocation, text messages, surveillance footage, body cameras, 911 calls…Unlike footage of Oklahoma City, the World Trade Center, or Las Vegas – law enforcement captured what happened inside and during the tragedy. This evidence can be compelling and credible.
2. The rental car is a unique piece of evidence that was only briefly mentioned by the prosecution. Why did Mateen need to rent a car? How many cars did they have? Did Mateen leave Salman with a car?
3. The defense has to undermine their own client’s statements. No easy task. And its tougher if the government can corroborate specific things that she told the FBI. It is a challenge to say that the FBI made up the statements for her when they had not yet figured out the evidence she disclosed.