Prosecutors portray Orlando gunman’s widow as a liar

Jose Louis Morales sits and prays under his brother Edward Sotomayor Jr.'s cross that is part of a makeshift memorial for the victims of the Pulse night club shootings in Orlando

By Joey Roulette

ORLANDO, Fla. (Reuters) – A federal prosecutor portrayed the widow of the Orlando nightclub gunman as a liar during closing arguments in her trial on Wednesday, saying she sought to mislead investigators probing the attack that killed 49 people in 2016.

Noor Salman, the widow of gunman Omar Mateen, initially lied to investigators in the 12 hours after the rampage at Pulse nightclub, but later admitted knowing her husband had left their home with a gun and had watched jihadist videos online, prosecutor Sara Sweeney told jurors.

“You’re going to have to find that Ms. Salman knowingly engaged in misleading conduct,” Sweeney said as the prosecution and defense began their final pitches to jurors.

Salman, 31, could face life in prison if convicted on charges of obstruction of justice and aiding Mateen in providing support to the Islamic State militant group.

“She does not have to be his equal in the attack” to show she helped her husband carry it out, Sweeney said in U.S. District Court in Orlando, Florida.

Sweeney also said the Disney Springs entertainment and shopping complex had been Mateen’s original target when he left home on the night of the June 12, 2016, massacre before ending up at Pulse.

Trial witnesses had hinted at the switch in targets, but Sweeney’s assertion on Wednesday was the first time prosecutors had acknowledged it.

Prosecutors allege Salman helped Mateen case possible attack sites and did nothing to stop the massacre at the gay nightspot. Mateen had claimed allegiance to a leader of Islamic State, and police killed him in an exchange of gunfire.

Prosecutors have argued that Salman first told investigators her husband acted without her knowledge but later said she knew he was watching Islamic State recruitment videos, had bought an assault-style rifle and had examined three possible sites for attack.

The only evidence from Salman’s initial interviews are handwritten statements because Federal Bureau of Investigation agents did not use video or audio recordings of the interrogation.

Defense lawyers contend Salman was a simple woman who loved children and that FBI investigators coerced her into confessing. Salman was at home with the couple’s then-3-year-old son during the attack and was unaware of Mateen’s plans, they have said.

The trial judge, Paul Byron, on Monday rejected a defense motion to dismiss the charges or declare a mistrial because the prosecution had failed to disclose Mateen’s father had been an FBI informant before the nightclub attack.

(Writing by Ian Simpson in Washington; editing by Colleen Jenkins and Jonathan Oatis)