ORLANDO, Fla. – Six potential jurors remain in the jury pool Thursday after the first day of selection in the federal trial for Noor Salman, the widow of Pulse gunman Omar Mateen.
Salman and her attorney Linda Moreno arrived at 9 a.m. Thursday at the Middle District federal courthouse in Orlando for the first day of proceedings. Salman, who wore a black cardigan over a white blouse with black trousers, never addressed the court during the five hours’ worth of proceedings.
She is accused of aiding and abetting her husband in the mass shooting that left 49 people dead and dozens of others injured at Pulse nightclub June 12, 2016, then obstructing justice after the fact by lying to FBI agents during their investigation.
U.S. District Judge Paul Byron questioned 10 potential jurors, four of whom were dismissed. Of the six jurors who were selected to remain in the pool, five are women and one is a man.
Byron’s questions focused on the questionnaire all 600-plus potential jurors received as well five general questions: whether the juror or a family member has ever been the victim of terrorism; if the terrorist attack of Sept. 11, 2001 would make it difficult to be fair and impartial; would any other terrorist attacks in recent years make it difficult for them to remain unbiased; did they know anyone affected by the school shooting in Parkland; and do they have any opinions about people with lawfully owned weapons going to a gun range.
One woman was dismissed Thursday afternoon as soon as she told the judge that she doesn’t like guns and doesn’t understand why someone would go to a shooting range.
“I don’t understand why people would make that their hobby, there are other sports to do,” Juror No. 35 said before being dismissed.
The other three dismissed potential jurors noted medical diagnoses or biases or emotional responses to certain topics that would make it difficult to remain fair.
Byron said after one potential member was dismissed that he would not necessarily consider hardship, such as loss of pay, as a reason to dismiss, but more likely because of a juror who he did not think would be able to devote themselves to the trial without distraction.
The jurors who were chosen to move on to the next phase of selection all described themselves as analytical thinkers who could set aside any media coverage they had seen while they examine and judge the facts of the case.
During the jury selection process, Salman spoke to her attorney at times, using her hands a lot and sometimes swiveling side to side in her leather chair.
The 31-year-old with long dark hair sat with her palms on her face through most of the jury questioning.
Susan Clary, a spokesperson for Salman’s family, was present, as well as a social justice advocate.
“There is a lot of public resentment about what (Mateen) did and they don’t want her being convicted before the trial or something that he is responsible for and he did,” Clary said. “It's a very emotional time.”
Also in the courthouse Thursday were survivors of the terrorist attack at Pulse, victim's family and Barbara Poma, who owns the nightclub property.
“We know the emotional days are coming,” Poma said of the trial. “ We'll get through this together. It was just emotional.”
Tara Connell, whose son, Cory Connell, said it was difficult sitting in the same courtroom just feet away from the widow of the man who killed her son.
Jury selection resumes at 9 a.m. Friday. Byron expects to question 14 potential jurors: seven before the lunch recess and seven after. Court officials expect that it will take between seven and 10 days to seat a 12-member jury with multiple alternates, then the trial will span approximately three weeks.
As court wrapped up for the day Thursday, Moreno offered a final word of advice to her client: “Get some rest.”
Salman faces life in prison if convicted.
Follow live updates from inside the federal courthouse from the News 6 team below and comment with questions: