Defense rests after calling false confession expert in trial of Pulse gunman's widow

Noor Salman, 31, accused of aiding, abetting husband in terror attack

By Emilee Speck - Digital journalist

ORLANDO, Fla. - Lawyers for the Pulse gunman's widow called a false confession expert Tuesday as their final witness, before resting their case.

Noor Salman, 31, is accused by the U.S. government of aiding and abetting her husband Omar Mateen ahead of the June 12, 2016, terror attack on Orlando's Pulse nightclub. She is also charged with obstruction of justice for allegedly lying to the FBI after the attack.

Salman's trial began March 1 at the U.S. District Court in Orlando. Her attorneys began calling witnesses in her defense on Monday.

Family and childhood friends of Salman's took the stand Monday and described the 31-year-old as a peaceful person who has more in common with children than adults, while other witnesses testified about Mateen's unfaithful behavior, including two women who had brief relationships with him.

The government's case relies heavily on a 26-page written statement that FBI Special Agent Ricardo Enriquez wrote down for her the day of the shooting.

Dr. Bruce Frumkin, a forensic clinical psychologist, was the final witness for the defense Tuesday. He testified about the widely used law enforcement interrogation technique known as the Reid method.

Frumkin said there are five main reasons why someone might falsely confess, including the techniques used by law enforcement. Using the Reid method law enforcement officers use a nine step process to get a possible suspect to confess. The interviewers do not accept denials, make suspects think they view them in a positive light and will lie about the evidence they have, Frumkin said.

"I'm not going to say it's good or bad," Frumkin said of the Reid process. 'It just exists and it's legally allowed."

One of those false confession scenarios is if the person knows they didn't commit the crime, but want to get out of the interrogation. Frumkin said 50 percent of false confessions are this type.

Frumkin testified that the average length of an interrogation is 1.5 hours. Salman was interviewed for 11 hours on June 12.

"Anything over three or four hours is really considered excessive," Frumkin said.

Frumkin also said that lack of sleep, the length of the interview, mental issues and lower IQ scores are risk factors for false confessions.

"The more sleep deprecated you are the more suggestible you are," he said.

Frumkin met with Salman in the Sumter County Jail in July and August 2017 to test her IQ, personality and suggestibility.

"She's not the brightest of all people," Frumkin said of his evaluation of Salman. "She comes across as really immature and immaturity really doesn't help the matter."

On the suggestibility test Salman scored an 18, the average person scores a 7.5, meaning she is more than twice as likely to yield to leading questions and adopt false info, Frumkin said.

During cross-examination, Assistant U.S. Attorney Sara Sweeney asked if someone who has more risk factors and a lower IQ like Salman can still give a true confession.

"It doesn't mean that someone who is highly suggestible can't give a true confession," Frumkin said.

The final piece of the defense's case was a statement from Pulse security guard Neal Whittleton who was there the night of the shooting and encountered Mateen before the shooting.

Defense attorney Linda Moreno read Whittleton's statement out loud in court for the jury. In it, Whittleton described Mateen coming up to him on June 12 on the patio of the club and asking "Why is it so slow tonight? Where are all the girls at?"

Whittle said moments later he felt Mateen watching him and then Mateen said "You're a security guard aren't you? Yeah, I see you here all the time."

Whittleton said he had never seen the man before in his life, but later thought Mateen was looking to see if he had a gun.

The defense presented the statement to drive home previous expert testimony showing Mateen chose his target at the last minute and not because it was a gay nightclub.

Both parties will deliver closing arguments Wednesday and then the case will be handed over to the jury for deliberation. Attorneys for the government said they will take three hours for closing and the defense said it will take 90 minutes.

After the defense rested its case Salman's attorneys and family members said outside of the courthouse that they have faith in the jury to reach a verdict in their favor.

"We believe in the jury, we trust them, we trust them. OK? And we have faith with them," Salman's aunt Susan Adieh said.

Family spokeswoman Susan Clary said Frumkin's testimony was hard for Salman hearing a psychologist say "how dumb she is and how easily manipulated she is," but also that the entire trial has been extremely personal.

"There have been a couple of instance earlier where they talked about Omar cheating and they talked about him looking at some unsavory sites and I was told later that she was embarrassed about that," Clary said. "This trial has been so personal and putting things out there that you and I would never want the world to know."

During the course of the trial, Salman's lawyers have twice asked U.S. District Judge Paul Byron to dismiss all charges against their client based on new information not previously disclosed by the government.

The defense learned Sunday that Mateen’s father, Seddique Mateen, was a confidential FBI source from 2005 through June 2016 and is currently under an FBI investigation for sending money to Pakistan and Turkey up to a week before his son attacked Pulse, killing 49 people. 

The defense team was told this information because it had listed Seddique Mateen on its possible witness list. The older Mateen did not take the stand.

[EXPERTS DISCUSS SALMAN TRIAL: Morning preview | Noon briefing | Evening recap]

Byron denied that motion Monday afternoon, saying that if there are other parties culpable in this case that is an issue to take up on another day.

Follow live updates from the courthouse below.

 

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