'It was a huge sense of relief,' Noor Salman's attorney says after verdict
Defense lawyer Fritz Scheller discusses moment Salman was acquitted
ORLANDO, Fla. – Days after his client, Noor Salman, was found not guilty of aiding her husband in the attack on Pulse nightclub in Florida, Orlando-based attorney Fritz Scheller reflected on what he said was one of the better experiences he's had as a defense attorney.
After a month-long trial, Salman was acquitted of federal charges of obstruction of justice and aiding and abetting material support to a terrorist organization.
"I was in shock," Scheller said about hearing the not guilty verdict Friday morning. "Not because I was so surprised the (by) verdict, but because this case has dominated my life."
He said the defense team, including attorneys Charles Swift and Linda Moreno, had a lot of sleepless nights during the trial.
"It was a huge sense of relief," Scheller said. "You think, 'If I make a mistake, or don't raise an argument, or if I miss something and she spends the rest of her life in jail, how can I live with that?'"
That's what he said he told a mother of a Pulse shooting victim right after the verdict. Scheller said he had connected with her in the gravel parking lot outside of the Orlando federal courthouse while the jury was deliberating.
"We embraced and (were) just comforting each other," he said.
Scheller added that she was one of the people he locked eyes with moments before the verdict came down.
"She caught my attention and we both looked at each other before the judge came in for the verdict, she was absolutely on my mind, her daughter was especially on my mind," he said.
[Watch below: Scheller explains his reaction to the verdict] Story continues below video
After the verdict came down, he walked over to her and held her hand.
"I essentially told her, 'If it was any consolation, an innocent woman has been acquitted,' and then I offered my support to her and her family," Scheller said of that interaction.
Survivors and the families of victims had mixed reactions when the verdict was read on Friday. Some thought federal prosecutors didn't have the evidence to prove Salman helped Omar Mateen plan and execute the attack, and others were frustrated that no one will be held accountable for the innocent lives that were taken in the mass shooting.
Some survivors and supporters gathered at Pulse to reflect and remember the 49 people killed on June 12, 2016.
Hours after the jury's verdict was read, Scheller walked Salman out of the Orange County Jail, surrounded by reporters and cameras, as a free woman. Scheller said as soon as Salman got into his car, she broke down, sobbing with a sense of relief.
Scheller said later Friday night he understood the reasoning behind the jury's decision, after the jury foreperson released a statement on how the 12 jurors came to the not guilty verdict.
"A verdict of not guilty did NOT mean that we thought Noor Salman was unaware of what Omar Mateen was planning to do. On the contrary we were convinced she did know. She may not have known what day, or what location, but she knew. However, we were not tasked with deciding if she was aware of a potential attack. The charges were aiding and abetting and obstruction of justice.," the statement from the jury foreperson read.
Scheller said his first reaction to that statement was that the defense team had failed.
"When I first read it, I thought, 'OK, we failed as a defense counsel,' because I don't believe she knew and we obviously didn't convey that, that's our failing," Scheller said. "But I also thought, 'Thank God.'"
See complete coverage of the trial at ClickOrlando.com/NoorSalmantrial.
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