Pulse trial jury will see, hear graphic evidence from shooting

Opening statements begin Wednesday

By Emilee Speck - Digital journalist

ORLANDO, Fla. - During opening statements Wednesday, federal attorneys and Noor Salman's defense team will lay out a road map, describing to the jurors what they will hear and see during the trial for the woman accused of aiding her husband in the Pulse shooting.

Salman is accused of aiding and abetting her husband, Omar Mateen, in the attack on Pulse nightclub on June 12, 2016, and obstructing justice by lying to FBI investigators after the fact. Her trial is being held at the U.S. Middle District Courthouse in Orlando, which is about 2 miles from the nightclub.

Both the defense and prosecution have selected character and expert witnesses, as well as evidence designed to help the jury make its decision.

U.S. District Judge Paul Byron, who oversees the case, reviews all the evidence and witnesses before allowing it in court.

If Salman is convicted she faces up to life in prison.

Judge says 'there has to be a limit' to graphic evidence

Several motions filled last week by the defense and prosecution gave a strong indication of what the jury will experience during the three-week trial. The U.S. government must prove that the massacre happened in the nightclub, and that 49 people were killed and more than 50 others were injured. The evidence is expected to be graphic.

[EXPERTS DISCUSS NOOR SALMAN TRIAL: Morning preview | Mid-day update | Evening recap]

The government filled a motion Sunday requesting to introduce part of a 90-minute recording by a victim from inside the club during the shooting, during which Mateen can be heard pretending to talk to other people, saying that he had an explosive vest on and that he had co-conspirators with him. The motion also included a request to include two 911 calls made by victims and police radio transcripts.

The government asked to include the particular recording of the gunman because it said it proves "the nature and scope of Mateen's attempted provision of material support" and "the reasonableness of the law enforcement response to the attack."

Defense attorney Charles Swift argued against playing the audio from the 911 calls, saying the jurors will already be seeing six photos of "bodies in puddles of blood" in the bathroom.

"They basically paint a horrible picture of people bleeding to death," Swift said of the audio. 

Byron granted part of the government's motion and will allow part of the recording of Mateen and the police radio transcripts.

"There is going to be a lot of emotionally charged evidence," Byron said. "It's just the nature of the case. There has to be a limit."

Some potential jurors were excused during questioning when asked if they could handle seeing graphic photos and video from inside the nightclub.

Who will testify

During the eight-day jury selection process, potential jurors were shown a list of witnesses to make sure they did not know them, but whom were never identified by name. A majority of the witnesses are just "regular people," said defense attorney Linda Moreno during the questioning of a possible juror.

It's unclear if Salman will testify.

Based on the discussions in the courtroom, jurors will hear from FBI agents, six officers who responded to the shooting, the hostage negotiator, a co-worker of Mateen's from his employer, G4S, Salman's uncle, a PNC bank employee and a pawn shop employee.

"I think what we are going to see is a lot of back and forth from the government presenting their witnesses trying to show a cohesive presentation and the defense ripping them apart," News 6 legal expert attorney Mark O' Mara said.

Defense attorney Charles Swift said in court Monday that jurors will also hear from a "broadcaster," which is likely Matthew Gentili, a local news producer, who spoke with Mateen during the shooting. The gunman called several area news stations during the standoff.

The prosecuting attorneys also asked to include radio dispatch from the first officer at the scene, Orlando police Detective Adam Gruler, who was working security at the club the night of the shooting. He exchanged fire with Mateen, but never entered the club. Sweeney said the audio will go along with his testimony.

The defense filed a motion last week, asking the judge to prevent the government from including in its opening statements Salman's comments made to the FBI that she saw her husband looking at the Pulse nightclub's website the day before the shooting. Lead defense attorney Charles Swift said there is no evidence from either Mateen or Salman's electronic devices that the Pulse website was accessed.

To address that missing link, Assistant U.S. Attorney Sara Sweeney said Monday that the government plans to call an expert who will testify about private or incognito browsing.

Mateen logged out of his Google account June 10 and cellphone IP addresses can change, Sweeney said.

What to expect during opening statements

Court is back in session Wednesday at 9 a.m.

The 12-member jury, plus six alternates, will be brought in for the first time as a complete panel. The public will not learn their names and the court sketch artists are not permitted to draw them. No cameras are allowed in federal courtrooms.

Byron is giving each party 50 minutes to present their opening statements. He said if they require more time he will allow it, but will give them a 10-minute warning when they approach the 40-minute mark.

"This is not going to be an easy case for the government to prove because there is no obvious evidence. There is no videotape of her doing something," O'Mara said."They are going to have to outline very methodically what the witnesses are going to say and how all of that is going to come together to present their case and to convince that jury beyond a reasonable doubt."

The defense will try to cut down the government's evidence and place doubt with the jury panel during opening statements, O'Mara said.

"They want to show there is no connection between Ms. Salman and the tragedy that happened at Pulse," he said.

Salman's family arrived in Orlando this week. Several of them are expected to be there on Wednesday sitting behind her during opening statements. On the other side of the aisle will be some of the 49 victims' friends and family members.

Follow continuing coverage at ClickOrlando.com/NoorSalmanTrial and on Twitter @news6pulsetrial.

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