Jury seated in Noor Salman trial; openings scheduled for Wednesday

Salman accused of assisting Pulse gunman Omar Mateen

Noor Salman, left, is seen with her defense attorney Linda Moreno and U.S. District Judge Paul Byron on March 12, 2018, the final day of jury selection in her trial.
Noor Salman, left, is seen with her defense attorney Linda Moreno and U.S. District Judge Paul Byron on March 12, 2018, the final day of jury selection in her trial.

ORLANDO, Fla. – On Monday, after more than a week of questioning potential jurors in the trial for Noor Salman, the widow of Pulse gunman Omar Mateen, attorneys for the U.S. government and the defense selected a 12-member jury panel and six alternates in less than 40 minutes.

U.S. District Judge Paul Byron started questioning possible jurors eight days ago, drawn from a pool of more than 600.

At the federal courthouse in Orlando Monday and two more potential jurors were added to the pool, making the total 57. 

Court was in recess until after lunch to give attorneys on both sides time to decide how they planned to exercise their strikes. The defense attorneys had the ability to exercise up to 20 strikes, and government prosecutors had the chance to use up to 12 strikes until the pool was whittled down to the final panel of 12, plus six alternates.

In order to keep the jury members' information private, Byron instructed both parties to pass a paper back and forth with 57 boxes, using their strikes until they came up with the alternates and formal jury panel. The alternates will not know they are not on the panel until after closing arguments.

Many of the potential jurors selected last week to remain in the larger pool work in fields related to science, technology or math. More than 30 of them were Caucasian and the remainder were black or Hispanic. Thirty-seven were women and 20 were men.

There was no information released about the final jury panel, including their jury numbers.

"It was interesting (Byron) didn't want any of the numbers disclosed," said News 6 legal expert Jason Johnson, who was in court for the final selection. "He's trying to make sure that this jury is protected, that their identifies are going to be protected and frankly that their identities aren't going to be revealed before they get in the jury deliberation room."

The jury panel will meet at an undisclosed location every day before being taken to the courthouse, entering through a private entrance.

The lead defense attorney, Charles Swift, was in court for the first time Monday.

"We're satisfied with the jury that has been selected, we believe in the jury," Swift said outside the courthouse. "I think at the end of trial they will believe in us​."

Salman is accused of aiding and abetting in her husband Mateen's attack on Pulse nightclub on June 12, 2016, and obstructing justice by lying to FBI investigators after the fact. Her trial is being held at the U.S. Middle District courthouse in Orlando, which is about 2 miles from the nightclub.

Opening statements will begin Wednesday morning. Court will be held Monday through Thursday with Fridays off. The trial is expected to last three weeks.

Jury will see, hear evidence from inside Pulse

When court reconvened Monday afternoon, Byron addressed two motions filed by the defense and U.S. government regarding evidence and opening statements.

Late Sunday, the U.S. government asked that 911 calls made from inside the nightclub's bathrooms by victims and radio transmissions from the first officer on scene be submitted as evidence.

Byron, who must approve all evidence presented to the jury, granted part of the motion, but will not allow the prosecution to play a call where a victim has been shot and says they are bleeding out.

"There is going to be a lot of emotionally charged evidence. It's just the nature of the case," Byron said,  adding that there must be a limit to the things the jury sees, which will include photos of dead bodies in the bathroom and other graphic images.

The jury will hear part of a 911 call where Mateen is pretending to talk to someone, saying he had on an explosive vest and people helping him outside the club during the attack. They will also hear some radio traffic from the first responding officer which Byron granted because he will be testifying and it shows his actions the night of the shooting.

"All of those false statements (Mateen) made to law enforcement during the course of the attack, impacted the way that they handled the situation and also impacted the way they conducted their questioning of Ms. Salman after the fact," Johnson said.

The defense filed a motion last week asking the judge to prevent the government from saying in its opening statements that Mateen intentionally targeted the gay community with his attack and that purchases made by the gunman before the attack where Salman was not present were "joint purchases."

Assistant U.S. attorney Sarah Sweeney said the government had no intention of implying Mateen only wanted to inflict terror on the LGBTQ community. Experts say Mateen's GPS data shows he visited Disney Springs and Eve Orlando nightclub hours before opening fire around 2 a.m. on June 12.

"The government flat out said we have no intention, never had intended that this was an attack on a gay nightclub, meaning that this was a targeted event to the gay community," Johnson said.

Swift also asked that the prosecution not include the implication in its opening statements that when Mateen made purchases of ammunition and weapons to prepare for the attack that Salman "had foreknowledge, contributed or approved" of every transaction.

Salman told the FBI in a written statement seven hours after the massacre that she knew about some of the items her husband had bought, including an AR-15 and hundreds of rounds of ammunition.

"She didn't admit to every piece of spending to the FBI, " Sweeney said referring to the statement. "That doesn't mean she doesn't know it."

After clarifying that opening statements are not evidence, Byron granted and denied part of the defense team's motion.

Noor Salman's family in court

Some of Salman's family arrived Monday and was seen walking into the courthouse ahead of the final jury selection. The family spokeswoman said they were waiting until opening statements to fly in from California.

Salman's aunt and uncle Susan Adieh and Al Salman said they do not believe their niece helped Omar Mateen in planning the massacre, killing 49 people and injuring more than 50 others.

"I knew from day one. It's not going to change I know for 100 percent she's innocent," Al Salman said standing in front of the courthouse.

Adieh said Salman's mother won't be coming in town for the trial, because she is caring for her grandson, Salman and Mateen's 5-year-old child.

"If we knew she was involved in anything we won't (sic) be here," Adieh said.

At the end of the day, before being led out of court, Noor Salman waved to her family and they waved back.

[EXPERTS DISCUSS JURY SELECTION: Morning preview | Noon briefing | Evening recap]

[MORE:  5 things to know | Who is Noor Salman? | Remembering the 49 | Pulse coverage]

See a recap below of today's updates from the courthouse below.


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