ORLANDO, Fla. - Noor Salman, who was accused of aiding and abetting and obstructing justice in connection with her husband's attack on the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, has been found not guilty.
Salman faced life in prison, if convicted.
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The U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida announced at 9:43 a.m. Friday that a verdict had been reached.
The jury began deliberating at 1:42 p.m. Wednesday, following hours of closing statements from government prosecutors and defense attorneys that morning. The jury deliberated throughout the day Thursday before adjourning just after 5 p.m.
When Salman's uncle learned his niece's federal trial would be in Orlando, he said he feared the worst because the courthouse is less than 2 miles from where Salman's late husband shot and killed 49 people.
The attack at Pulse by Omar Mateen on June 12, 2016, is still an open wound in the greater Orlando area. More than 50 others injured in the shooting survived and the tragedy touched people around the world. Mateen was killed after a three-hour standoff with Orlando police.
His wife's trial was difficult for the survivors and for the families of victims.
On Wednesday, after three weeks of testimony and evidence, the 12-member jury panel began to deliberate if Salman is guilty of what the U.S. government has accused her of -- aiding and abetting the attempted provision and provision of material support to a foreign terrorist organization. She is also charged with obstruction of justice for allegedly lying to the FBI.
"It's in the jury's hands," Al Salman said of his 31-year-old niece's fate. "They are intelligent. They are smart. They are paying attention. So we have faith in the jury."
Al Salman and two of his cousins, from California, have been in court every day since opening statements were made, sitting 6 feet behind their niece. Noor Salman has been in jail since January 2017, and hasn't seen her relatives, including her now 5-year-old son, since she was extradited to Florida.
Salman did not testify and the jury is not allowed to consider that a factor in their decision. As the accused, Salman isn't even required to put on a case for her defense, however, some of the best criminal lawyers have taken up her case and fought on her behalf.
After closing arguments, the judge went over instructions for the set of legal requirements for the jurors to follow to insure Salman is not wrongly convicted. The government's burden of proof is beyond reasonable doubt. If the jury has any doubt about whether Salman is guilty, they must acquit her. Read more here about how the jury will make its decision.
The judge went over those instructions with the jury members and then notified the six alternate jurors that they could go home, but said they may be called back if another member has to leave for any reason during deliberation.
"I believe in our system. I believe in our jury system. I believe in our jury," Salman's aunt Susan Adieh said.
U.S. District Judge Paul Byron handed the case to the jury at 1:42 p.m. Wednesday.
After a few hours of deliberation, the lawyers were all called back into court because the jury had a question. They asked for clarification on the language of the aiding and abetting charge and then for copies of Salman's written statement to the FBI.
The morning of the second day of deliberation, the jury had another question.
"What constitutes willful support and encouragement for material support of terrorism examples?" the question read. The jury panel also asked the judge for examples of "encouragement" and "support."
Byron answered, saying he could not provide them examples, because those terms were used in the jury instructions, and they must consider all of the evidence presented in the case.
Byron did clarify what it means to aid and abet another person in a crime.
"To aid and abet another to commit a crime it is necessary that Ms. Salman in some sort associated herself with the criminal act of providing or attempting to provide material support for a terrorist organization, that she participated in it as in something that she wished to bring about, and that she sought by her actions to make it succeed," Byron said in his response to the question.
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