The acquittal by a federal jury of Noor Salman, the widow of the man who gunned down dozens of people at the Pulse nightclub two years ago, handed federal prosecutors on Friday the rarest of defeats: a loss in a terrorism case.
The outcome was even more striking because the not-guilty verdict came from jurors in Orlando, Fla., where Omar Mateen’s rampage left 49 people dead and 53 others injured, the worst terrorist attack on American soil since Sept. 11, 2001.
Jurors unanimously rejected government charges that Ms. Salman had helped her husband plan his violent assault in the name of the Islamic State — a narrative countered by her family’s claims that she was kept in the dark about her husband’s secrets and was home sleeping when the attack occurred.
To blame for the government’s defeat, said defense lawyers and legal experts who closely followed the trial, was a flimsy circumstantial case that ultimately was unable to persuade jurors during the eight days of trial.
Testimony from an F.B.I. agent revealed that prosecutors knew early on, but did not reveal, that one of their crucial initial pieces of evidence — that Ms. Salman had admitted driving by the nightclub with her husband in the days before the attack — most likely did not happen.
It’s more than that, they had phone records conclusively show that she was not there at the time.
Prosecutors also faltered when they argued that Ms. Salman had created an alibi for her husband the night of the shooting, telling Mr. Mateen’s mother that he was out to dinner with a friend identified only as Nemo. But that line was Mr. Mateen’s own lie to his wife, defense lawyers argued. They put Nemo on the stand, over prosecutors’ objections, to testify that he knew Mr. Mateen had used him in the past as a cover story to cheat on his wife.
Of course the prosecutors did not want this information to come out in court, the truth gets in the way of a conviction.
“The more we learned, the better Noor Salman looked,” Charles D. Swift, one of her lawyers, told reporters after the verdict was announced.
The jury of seven women and five men deliberated a little more than 12 hours before acquitting Ms. Salman on charges of aiding and abetting the commission of a terrorist act and of obstructing justice. She had been accused of giving misleading statements to law enforcement officers who interviewed her after the massacre.
12 hours deliberation before a not-guilty verdict, particularly in a case involving terrorism, and the prosecutors and the FBI knew it.
They lied to the jurors, and the jurors knew it, so they acquitted.
Never talk to law enforcement without a lawyer present ……… ever.