The FBI special agent who informed the widow of the Pulse gunman that her husband had been killed took the stand Tuesday at the Orlando federal courthouse and described Noor Salman's inconsistent statements and lack of reaction after learning of Omar Mateen's death.
Salman, 31, is accused of aiding and abetting her husband, Mateen, in the June 12, 2016, attack on the Orlando gay nightclub, in which 49 people were killed and more than 50 others were injured.
FBI Special Agent T.J. Sypniewski informed Salman at 8:45 a.m. on June 12 that Mateen died during a violent incident in Orlando. His testimony, however differed from that of Special Agent Christopher Mayo who was also in the FBI Fort Pierce conference room when that conversation occurred.
Mayo testified last week that Salman cried for about five minutes after learning Mateen was dead, “but not hysterically.” On Tuesday, Sypniewski said he didn’t recall any crying after he told her and Salman showed "no emotion."
“Her lack of emotionality was a concern to me,” he said. “She had no questions about her husband whatsoever.”
Sypniewski and Mayo both testified that, throughout their interview with Salman, she made several statements that she later changed.
Salman at first said she did not know Mateen’s friend Nemo, whom she said he was going to meet the night before the shooting, but then later, she recalled that Nemo had come to their apartment, but she did not speak to him.
Sypniewski testified that he asked Salman if her husband had any guns and if he went to the shooting range. Salman said Mateen had a handgun for work and had gone to the shooting range a few times recently. Later she said she had seen a long gun case in the back of their Toyota Camry.
When asked if she had ever been to the shooting range, she said no, but later when Sypniewski told her the FBI would review surveillance video from local shooting ranges she said she had gone with Mateen once in 2014.
Prosecutors showed a photo to the jury Tuesday of Salman with Mateen at a gun range that was taken during that 2014 visit to the range. The U.S. government said this is proof she lied to the FBI.
The FBI agent explained on the stand why he considered inconsistent statements significant.
“It was apparent that we were not getting the same answers at the beginning of the interview as we were at the end,” Sypniewski said.
Sypniewski testified that when he handed off interviewing Salman to Special Agent Ricardo Enriquez--who later wrote down her statements, which are the basis of the government's case against her-- he testified that he told Enriquez about the inconsistencies in her statements.
Enriquez testified Monday for almost seven hours. See a recap of his testimony here.
The defense called Enriquez back to the stand Tuesday to try to prove he knew more details about the attack, including that it happened at Pulse, before interviewing Salman, which her lawyers said may have influenced the outcome of her statements.
Enriquez said, at the time he interviewed the gunman's wife, he only knew that there had been a terrorist attack at an Orlando nightclub because of a news conference he saw with Orlando Assistant Special Agent in Charge Ron Hopper. He denied knowing it was a gay nightclub or that it was Pulse.
Feds paint Salman as concerned only for her ‘financial future’
Throughout Tuesday’s testimony, the government continued to lay the groundwork to show that Salman was concerned only for her financial well-being before and after the terror attack.
Prosecutors showed jurors a single text message exchange between Mateen and Salman during an FBI cyber forensic expert’s testimony on Tuesday. In it, the couple discusses pawning some unidentified items. Salman told Mateen she needed money for earrings and Mateen responded “You’re becoming a gold digger Noor.”
The prosecution alleges Salman only cared about the money that she would receive from Mateen’s bank account after his death.
The prosecution called FBI Special Agent Duel Valentine to the stand Tuesday to talk about statements Salman made while he sat with her for a few hours at the Fort Pierce FBI office.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Roger Hamburg asked Valentine about what Salman said about her financial concerns.
Valentine testified that Salman was “concerned she wouldn’t be able to get a job after the attack” and asked when she would receive her husband’s death certificate to try and waive his debt.
“It struck me as a very odd conversation,” Valentine said.
When Hamburg asked why the special agent thought it was odd and the defense objected. Byron allowed the questioning to continue, but asked Hamburg to rephrase his question to avoid including Valentine’s opinion, adding, "other than the fact she was about to be unemployed and homeless."
“It seemed like an odd time to be concerned about your financial future,” Valentine said.
Valentine said Salman also spoke about her son, and said she worried about raising him alone and how Mateen’s actions would affect him. Valentine recorded about 20 statements in his report and eight of them were about her son.
Valentine’s report showed Salman said she tried to stop her husband and that she called her husband’s actions “selfish.”
A PNC banker and two jewelry store employees testified about financial activity by Mateen and Salman in the week before the shooting.
A Fort Pierce PNC Bank assistant branch manager said Mateen and Salman came into the Virginia Avenue branch on June 1 asking about options to either add Salman to Mateen’s account or as a beneficiary after his death, meaning she would receive access to his account after his death.
Morgan said that for Salman to have access to the account she would need to present a death certificate and have her identification.
FBI Special Agent TJ Sypniewski testified later on Tuesday that, after Salman was done being interviewed in Fort Pierce, she asked “when am I going to be able to get the money?” saying she was a beneficiary on Mateen’s bank account.
The Kay Jewelers regional manager who helped Mateen and Salman buy an engagement ring and a wedding band on June 6, 2016, at a Jensen Beach store, testified Tuesday. She said that, while the couple was at the store with their son, Mateen was aggravated and “very disconnected,” while Salman was “focused” and “knew what she wanted in an engagement ring.”
The couple bought a Leo solitaire engagement ring for $7,000 and a wedding band for $1,499, receipts show.
The Florida Mall Zales Diamond Store salesman who sold the couple a pair of 0.5-carat diamond earrings on June 8, 2016, for $799, also testified.
Rick Houat testified that Salman was sad and “maybe had some tears in her eyes.”
During cross-examination defense attorney Charles Swift said that Houat told the FBI during his first statement that Salman was wearing a scarf over her head, like a hijab, but video surveillance from the store shows she was not wearing one.
“Could be mistaken on the tears in the eyes too?” Swift asked.
Father’s Day card message, texts, computer history shown in court
FBI Special Agent Marco Rodriguez testified that he collected two computers and two cellphones from Mateen and Salman’s apartment with a search warrant.
The FBI agent showed a photo of a gift bag with a Father’s Day card found on the couple’s dining room table. Prosecutors said Salman purchased the gift as part of a cover story. Father’s Day was more than a week away.
The message in the card read: “Dad, I love you a lot. You do so much for me and mommy. May Allah bless you and protect you. From us.”
FBI computer forensic examiner Jeff Etter walked the jury through some of the websites visited and history from both computers.
Mateen’s Dell laptop showed that as far back as 2014, someone had been visiting jihadi websites and watching ISIS beheading videos, and someone had used the Chrome Incognito browsing options on at least five occasions, which means that the browser did’t save the websites visited.
The user watched a majority of the videos on a jihadi website after midnight and into the early-morning hours, according to the computer data.
Etter also testified that the computer showed someone used a software program called CCleaner to clear old files. He estimated it was probably used in 2014.
“It tends to clean up after itself and not leave any trace,” Etter said.
Two days before the Pulse shooting someone Googled, “Can credit card companies take money from bank account” and made several other searches about PNC, the bank at which Mateen had added his wife to before the shooting.
In the week leading up to the shooting, Mateen spent close to $20,000 on guns, ammunition and clothing and jewelry for Salman.
Mother of Pulse gunman's childhood friend testifies
The second witness called Tuesday by the government was Aisha Mohammad, the mother of Mateen's childhood friend, known only as Nemo. Salman had told Mateen's mother and authorities that her husband was going to have dinner with Nemo when he left their Fort Pierce apartment on June 11.
Mohammad saw Mateen's mother on June 11 at the mosque both families attend.
"Mrs. Mateen, Omar's mom, she told me, 'My son went to see your son,'" Mohammad said. "I said my son is in Washington, D.C., at a new rotation."
Nemo, a recent medical school graduate, was living in Washington, D.C., at the time of the shooting. Mohammad said Mateen's mother did not appear to have a reaction to that conversation.
Mohammad testified she never met Salman and was unaware if Salman ever met her son.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Sara Sweeney estimated the prosecution will finish calling witnesses by Thursday morning. The defense team said it would be able to begin calling witnesses on Monday. Salman’s attorney, Charles Swift, said the defense expects to call eight to 10 witnesses.
Also both parties will meet Friday to discuss what instructions will be given to the jury panel when it comes time for deliberation. Salman will not be present for jury instruction on Friday, to give her time to rest.
The trial is expected to last about three weeks.
See a recap of Tuesday's court proceedings below and follow updates throughout the trial at ClickOrlando.com/Noorsalmantrial.
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