After the verdict: Pulse owner discusses Noor Salman trial
'I can still replay it over in my head,' Poma says of shooting video
ORLANDO, Fla. – Pulse owner Barbara Poma thought she was better prepared for the possibility that the jury in the Noor Salman trial would return with a "not guilty" verdict last week. When it happened, she said it was so emotionally draining she needed time before discussing the trial and the acquittal of the Pulse gunman's widow.
Poma was in court almost every day for the monthlong federal trial of Salman, whose husband killed 49 people and injured more than 50 others almost two years ago before he was shot and killed by Orlando SWAT officers.
The jury acquitted Salman Friday morning on federal charges of obstruction of justice and aiding and abetting material support to a terrorist organization.
As the verdict was read, Poma, wearing a rainbow heart pendant, was sitting about 12 feet away from the defense table, surrounded by her family and Pulse victims' families. After the verdict was read, she left the courtroom with tears in her eyes and did not speak to any news media.
"I think that, as we went through the three weeks of evidence, I think we expected her to be found guilty on at least one of those charges," Poma said. "We were very shocked."
She said for some, going to the trial was important because they wanted answers.
"For people who didn't come, it's because they didn't want to go backwards. They wanted to go forward and the end didn't matter to them," Poma said.
[Watch below: Poma describes her reaction to the not guilty verdict]
In an attempt to prove the first charge -- aiding and abetting material support to a terrorist organization -- attorneys for the U.S. government had to show that the Pulse shooting happened and that it was an act of terror.
The first two days of evidence were the hardest for Poma, survivors and victims' families in court. The government played, for the first time in public, a graphic video showing Mateen inside the club the moment he opened fire on people on the dance floor.
"I can still replay it over in my head," Poma said of seeing the surveillance video for the first time.
She still hasn't been able to talk about it, even with her family.
"I can't put it into words. I don't know how to put it into words," Poma said. "That was being re-traumatized. That set me back, obviously."
[Watch below Pulse owner reacts to seeing graphic evidence in court]
The jury also heard new information from FBI special agents' testimony about Mateen's actions in the days and hours before the attack that showed he never intended to attack Pulse, but that it was a last-minute decision. During closing arguments, Assistant U.S. Attorney Sara Sweeney said Mateen's planned target was Disney Springs, but a large law enforcement presence there caused him to target a downtown Orlando nightclub instead.
Poma said that information was an eye opener.
"That was hard to take in for all of us," Poma said. "People have said things, 'Well, then it wasn't an attack on the LGBT community,' but they were certainly affected by this."
After the verdict, Poma said she was angry and upset, but after reading the statement the jury foreman released, she felt slightly better.
"It meant a lot for us to hear. At least they said she knew something because you can't sit through that and not know that she didn't know. You just couldn't," she said.
The site of Pulse, on South Orange Avenue, is currently undergoing renovations to be turned into a memorial for the 49 victims. After the shooting, Poma founded the onePULSE Foundation, which is planning the memorial.
In April, a temporary memorial will open, with greenery and benches to allow people to visit the site and not stare at the fence the FBI put up on June 12, 2016. Poma said she continues to focus on the future.
"I don't want to say I'm at peace with it," she said. "Now I try to put it in my head it's a chapter we had to go through but we haven't finished the book."
See complete coverage of the trial at ClickOrlando.com/NoorSalmantrial.
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