The government, thus far, has presented the case chronologically as to how the events played out from their perspective. It is a good strategy in a case like this where the government has to piece facts together after the fact.
A short summary of how we got to here:
The first few witnesses took the jury inside Pulse immediately before, during, and then after the mass shooting. The government then called a terrorism expert to explain some of the concepts to the jury. The government then played surveillance footage from inside the nightclub and showed photographs of Mateen’s body and how the deceased victims were found in various parts of the club. This is a difficult task because the government wants to show the horrific results of Mateen’s attack but does not want to offend the jury with body after body. As a result, photos were displayed that were taken from a distance so it was difficult to determine the identity of each victim. The surveillance footage from inside of Pulse was chilling. Mateen appeared calm, calculated and cold as he systematically executed people who laid on the ground. The government can certainly argue that Mateen planned on dying in the attack because he never even attempted to flee the scene. If anything, he went into the bathrooms where there was zero chance of him getting out alive. This is a central focus of the government’s theme that Mateen and Salman planned for Salman’s life after he died.
The next several witnesses the government called were law enforcement who logged the evidence and identified Mateen’s cellular phone that was submerged in bloody water. Notably, Mateen carried a handgun in his waist holster in the same fashion that Salman subsequently described in one of her statements to the FBI. The corroboration of Salman’s statements will critical.
On Monday, March 19, 2018, the United States called one of their critical witnesses, FBI polygraph examiner Agent Enriquez. He takes 3 statements from Salman and he was the only witness called today. He calmly described his process, the polygraph procedures, and Salman’s statements. He actually took dictation from Salman about what to write and had her initial the statements to “encapsulate” them. It was an effective method as the defense is attacking him for not recording the statements. A significant portion of her statements appear to have been corroborated (although we have yet to hear that evidence). The agent repeatedly stated that he could not have known the information in her statements as it had not yet been gathered. Repeatedly in her statements, Salman stated, “I knew” that Mateen was planning an attack. One of the most contested statements (and uncorroborated) is that Salman said she “knew” Mateen would attack Pulse. The agent’s cross examination was contentious as Mr. Swift and the agent repeatedly spoke over each other. The defense contends that Salman only pieced things together after she learned about the attack. However, her statements contradict that because she repeatedly stated, “I knew” the attack was imminent because he was spending money, buying ammunition and weapons, and left with them the night before the attack.
From a legal perspective, Salman “knowing” about the attack and “helping” Mateen in the preparation are very different. It is a difficult concept to grasp. Someone can know a crime is about to be committed and not aid in the crime. Stated differently, someone can be morally bankrupt and not aid the crime itself. The government contends that Salman aided Mateen by (1) concealing the plan from his family the night of the attack (ie. creating a cover story), (2) casing locations for an attack and driving him to purchase ammunition, and (3) engaging in exorbitant expenditures before the attack to equip Mateen and give her financial security.
In all, expect the next several government witnesses to try to corroborate what Salman said. Visiting City Place in West Palm, visiting Disney Springs, her communications with Mateen’s family members, purchasing ammunition, and the financial/forensic analysis will be next. If the jury believes her statements, they will believe that she knew about Mateen wanting to carry out a terrorist attack beforehand. If they believe the corroboration, they will then have to decide whether she helped him prepare for it.
No criminal investigation is perfect but it is apparent that there are some holes in the government’s case. One seems to be more notable in that Salman allegedly says Mateen asked her if certain locations would be better for an attack (ie. “Would an attack at Disney be better than an attack at a club?”). However, the FBI did not ask the appropriate follow-up question, “What did you tell him?” While Salman went with Mateen to certain locations (City Place, Disney Springs and possibly Pulse), the government NOT having her response as to whether she was verbally encouraging him or helping him select a location, allows the defense to capitalize on whether she was merely present.