ORLANDO, Fla. - As federal prosecutors and defense attorneys prepare for next week's trial of Noor Salman, widow of Pulse nightclub gunman Omar Mateen, the lawyers plan to use jury consultants to help them evaluate prospective jurors.
Earlier this month, the U.S. Attorney's Office asked a federal judge for permission to disclose the confidential names of prospective jurors to a consulting firm and its subcontractors.
"The government entered into a contract with a consulting firm to assist with the review of the jury questionnaires and intended to use the firm to conduct searches of public records and social media of the remaining jurors," wrote prosecutors.
One of Salman's defense attorneys, Linda Moreno, has previously worked as a jury consultant and has served as an expert on anti-Muslim bias in American jury trials, according to her firm's website.
Salman has been charged with aiding and abetting her husband in support of a terrorist organization-- a crime that carries a potential life prison sentence.
The gunman's wife is also accused of obstructing justice by misleading FBI agents in the hours immediately following the Pulse nightclub attack.
In the hit CBS TV drama "Bull," Michael Weatherly portrays Dr. Jason Bull, a psychologist who runs a jury consulting firm that uses high-tech data to predict how jurors may vote.
The fictional character is inspired by Dr. Phil McGraw, the founder of a trial consulting firm.
Jury consultants like McGraw are frequently used in criminal and civil trials to help attorneys identify prospective jurors who might be more favorable to their case while also identifying social media posts and other information that might indicate a juror's bias.
Nearly five years ago, a jury consultant working with George Zimmerman's attorneys helped discover comments about Trayvon Martin's death posted on Facebook by a prospective juror.
March 21, 2012, posting was on the Facebook page called The Coffee Party Progressive, a website brought up to "bring justice to Trayvon."
The posting said, "with the noise we made, it couldn't be covered up," referring to the shooting death of Martin.
The Facebook message also indicated "justice is coming" and described the Sanford Police Department, which investigated Martin's shooting death, as "corrupt".
"We're very glad that our research uncovered the information before we put a juror on the panel that would be very problematic," Zimmerman's attorney, Mark O'Mara, told News 6 in 2013 prior to his client's acquittal of murder charges.
Several months before Casey Anthony was acquitted of the murder of her 2-year-old daughter Caylee in 2011, jury consultant Richard Gabriel assembled a mock jury for the CBS program "48 Hours Mysteries."
The panelists, who were paid by CBS, accurately revealed that some jurors might have doubts about Anthony's guilt.
"We think it was an accident," one mock juror told CBS. "I don't think she meant to kill."
However, unlike the real jury that acquitted Anthony of all charges except lying to law enforcement, the mock jury assembled for the TV program believed that Anthony might have been guilty of involuntary manslaughter.
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