The trial of the Pulse gunman’s widow reached a critical moment Monday in Orlando as jurors heard from the FBI special agent who took several statements from Noor Salman during which she said she knew her husband Omar Mateen was planning some kind of an attack.
Salman is accused of aiding and abetting her husband in the June 12, 2016, attack on the Orlando gay nightclub where 49 people were killed and more than 50 others were injured.
FBI Special Agent Ricardo Enriquez was the only witness called to the stand Monday during the third day of testimony.
Hours after the mass shooting occurred and Mateen was killed by Orlando SWAT officers, Enriquez, an FBI polygraph examiner, acquired a three-part statement from the 31-year-old Salman during a period of four hours.
The written statements taken down by Enriquez, which allegedly are in Salman’s words, are a crucial piece of evidence in the U.S. government’s case against her.
Salman, who has been in the U.S. Middle District courtroom since the trial started on March 1, looked serious throughout Enriquez's testimony, and at times shook her head.
Enriquez said he had little information to go on before interviewing Salman. He testified that, at that time, he only knew there had been a terrorist attack at a nightclub in Orlando. He proceeded to question Salman about Mateen's behavior and what actions he took leading up to the shooting.
After about an hourlong conversation, Enriquez testified that he asked Salman if she would write down a statement for his records. He said she was too nervous and asked him to write it for her.
"You're going to dictate to me what we're going to write and after we're done you're going to read it and initial that everything is correct," Enriquez said he told Salman.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Roger Hamburg took Enriquez through that statement line by line.
Salman said Mateen had been looking at jihad websites every day for two years and he was angry about Muslims being killed abroad, according to the first statement.
Mateen bought a rifle four days before the attack, telling Salman it was for work, the statement said. The statement also went into detail about Mateen's spending in the few days before June 12, 2016. He bought his wife a $7,000 ring and clothing, bought toys for their son and spent a lot of money on eating out, Enriquez said Salman told him.
After each statement was written down, Enriquez said he would have Salman review it and make sure it was true and accurate. Read the full statement here.
"She could have told me she took a trip to the moon and I would have put it down, so whatever she said he spent money on I would write down," he said on the stand.
Salman told Enriquez her husband added her as a beneficiary on his PNC bank account about a week before the shooting.
This action, Enriquez said, caused Salman to be "concerned he was getting close to doing an act of violence, something bad."
At the end the first statement, Enriquez had Salman write in her own words that she had been treated fairly, the words were her own and she had not been forced into making the statement.
At the bottom of the signed document, she wrote, "I am sorry for what happened I wish I'd go back and tell his family and the police what he was going to do."
Enriquez said that after he read what she wrote, he went back and asked her if she had known what Mateen was going to do when he left their Fort Pierce home.
“I told her I was disappointed with her,” Enriquez said, adding that at first, Salman did not understand what he meant. “This statement tells me that you knew.”
"She began to cry and said, 'I knew,'" Enriquez testified.
Salman’s lawyers claim that, after 12 hours of questioning, Salman had been forced into making statements to the FBI that she knew what Mateen had planned. None of her interviews were recorded and even though Salman had agreed to take a polygraph test, she was never given one.
“That’s pivotal here because those are not her words,” News 6 legal expert Whitney Boan. “They are purporting them to be her words and maybe the jury will find, after hearing all the evidence, that they believe that they are her words.”
Her defense team has repeatedly filled motions asking U.S. District Judge Paul Byron to not allow the statements as evidence.
Defense attorney Charles Swift began cross-examining Enriquez, asking about his news consumption on June 12, questioning whether he could have told Salman the shooting had occurred at Pulse nightclub.
Enriquez denied knowing that information while he was questioning her.
“You’re the only person in America at this point who doesn’t know it’s Pulse," Swift said.
When questioned about the third written statement, Enriquez testified that Salman told him she had seen Mateen looking at the Pulse nightclub website on June 10 and told he had told her, “This is my target.” The couple had driven by the club on their last visit to Orlando, according to the statement.
During cross-examination, Swift began laying the foundation for a false confession defense, asking Enriquez about those specific details, saying it wouldn’t mean as much if Salman didn’t know it was an attack on Pulse.
“It took a little longer than two hours but she finally, completely, agreed with you,” Swift said to Enriquez about Salman's alleged knowledge.
Enriquez and Swift had an exchange about how important it was to corroborate Salman’s statements with evidence. The defense says computer and cellphone data do not match this account and that Mateen and Salman never went to Pulse or visited the website.
“If you couldn’t corroborate the information, we wouldn’t be here,” the FBI agent said.
To which Swift shot back, “Well, we’ll see.”
GPS and cellphone data evidence from Mateen show that ,on the night of the attack, he drove back and forth between Eve Orlando nightclub and Pulse, before ultimately opening fire at Pulse at 2:02 a.m.
The defense has asked to be able to call back Enriquez for further questioning, specifically about what media he saw before interviewing Salman.
Outside the courthouse Monday, Salman family spokeswoman Susan Clary said it was clear the written statements weren’t in Salman’s own words.
“I have seen her writing personally and I see her writing, the little bit of writing she did do on the statements and she’s not that eloquent. She can’t spell, her grammar is not that great,” Clary said. “I love the girl to death but those aren’t the writings of Noor Salman.”
Testimony continues Tuesday as the government calls more witnesses.
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