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)

Rainbows, angels mark a year since Florida nightclub shooting

Guests visit the memorial outside the Pulse Nightclub on the one year anniversary of the shooting, in Orlando, Florida.

By Christopher Boyd

ORLANDO, Fla. (Reuters) – The names of the 49 people killed at a Florida gay nightclub where a gunman turned a dance party into a massacre last year were read aloud on Monday at ceremonies marked by rainbow-hued memorials and guarded by supporters dressed as angels.

On the first anniversary of the worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history, officials asked Americans to join in acts of “love and kindness” to honor victims of the three-hour June 12, 2016 rampage at the now-shuttered Pulse club, including survivors still reeling from emotional and physical wounds.

Vigils and rallies were planned across the United States in a show of solidarity with victims of the attack, which authorities called a hateful act against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people.

“People have asked me what has changed in my life. I tell them everything,” Pulse owner Barbara Poma told several hundred people gathered for a midday ceremony outside the club. “We are all changed.”

Choking back sobs, Poma said she missed everything about Pulse, whose site will become a permanent memorial.

Forty-nine pale yellow wreaths emblazoned with the victims’ names adorned a wall at the nightclub on Monday, and many people at the ceremony wore T-shirts bearing messages such as “we will not let hate win.”

Two women, one with a rainbow flag in her hair, embraced as the names of the victims were read aloud.

“We just had to come here today,” said Joe Moy, 56, of Orlando, who has two gay children and attended the event with his wife. “It was a tremendous outpouring of love.”

Survivors and victims had gathered privately at Pulse at 2:02 a.m. ET (0602 GMT) to mark the exact moment that gunman Omar Mateen, 29, opened fire during the club’s popular Latin night. He shot patrons on the dance floor and sprayed bullets at others cowering in bathroom stalls.

Holding hostages during his standoff with police, Mateen claimed allegiance to a leader of the Islamic State militant group before he was killed in an exchange of gunfire with authorities.

His widow, Noor Salman, is charged in federal court with aiding and abetting Mateen’s attack and lying to authorities. She was not present for the shooting and has pleaded not guilty.

With the massacre, more LGBT people were killed in the United States in 2016 than any of the 20 years since such record-keeping began, according to a report by the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs.

(Writing by Letitia Stein; Additional reporting by Chris Michaud in New York; Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Richard Chang)