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Law Professor Provides Insight To Start Of Noor Salman Trial

Noor Salman (L) and counsel Linda Moreno (R). Photo: Charles Treadwell
Noor Salman (L) and counsel Linda Moreno (R). Photo: Charles Treadwell

The federal trial for Noor Salman is under way in Orlando. Opening arguments were laid out this week and we’ve been learning more about the defendant. Salman is charged with aiding and abetting her husband Omar Mateen, the Pulse nightclub shooter. She is also charged with obstruction of justice. To brief us on this week’s start of the trial, we turn to Samuel Kan, Assistant Professor of Law at the Barry University School of Law.

Chavez: You were at opening arguments, lay out the highlights you heard from the prosecution.

Kan: Well, the prosecution is going to focus its efforts in two views. The first is with regards to the aiding and abetting and they're going to focus on three aspects. The first, they're going to argue that she and the shooter worked together to case possible targets, specifically Disney Springs and City Springs and one of those trips they did in the middle of the night. They're trying to show that by casing these possible targets, she was clearly aiding the shooter in conducting the eventual attack which occurred at Pulse.

The second aspect is preparing financially, and there are numerous steps they took to prepare financially. The theory that the government has is: they knew that the shooter was going to die and therefore they needed to make sure that the surviving spouse, in this case the defendant, had sufficient funds to survive. Some of those steps they took included changing the beneficiary on a pay-on-death bank account and doing other things including spending approximately $30,000 over a very short period of time to make sure that she had assets such as jewelry, which you could potentially sell.

And the third is hiding the shooter, in this case from the shooter's mother, allegedly the defendant made statements to the effect that the shooter was with his friend Nemo, when she allegedly knew that the shooter was in the last stages of preparing to make his attacks. That's the first aspect on the aiding and abetting, and the second aspect is with regards to the obstruction of justice and there, the prosecution is going to show that there are numerous contradictory statements that the defendant made to law enforcement in an attempt to impede their investigation, to slow their investigation.

Chavez: The defense painted Salman as simple, sweet and trusting while Mateen was a cheater who lied to her and acted alone in the attack. What strategy are you hearing there?

Kan: It's actually a very brilliant strategy for the defense, they're trying to distance the shooter from the defendant. And that way they don't have to confront all the awful things that the shooter did. What the defense is basically going to argue is that she was ignorant of what the plan was, she was totally in the dark. It really helps their case based on the facts that they're going to present, including an extremely low IQ, about 84, putting her in the bottom fifth or so of the population.

A fairly low level of education, the fact that she didn't work and numerous other facts that showed that she was in the dark, such as allegations that the shooter was cheating on her and that the shooter abused her and so, basically we're trying to, as a defense we're trying to paint a very sympathetic type of defendant. And so therefore, the thought processes is yes, the shooter did something really, really awful but don't blame my defendant, my defendant was totally in the dark. She's not the brightest and she, she had no idea that any of this was going to occur.

Chavez: And just jumping off of that, you know the jury heard from survivors, the first police officer on the scene at Pulse, they saw gruesome video of the attack, why start the trial with this?

Kan: There are two theories of that. The first general theory is a theory called 'primacy and recency' and what you want to do is, you want to start off strong and you want to end strong, that's one theory. The other theory is a chronological theory and so, I think they're trying to do a mixture of both here. They're trying to say 'hey, look this is what this is all about, take a look. This is how it all got started and we're going to show you some live footage of the scene including discharging of the firearm.'

Because that way everyone can understand what this is all about. They're trying to focus on the the horrific nature of this and to show that we need to hold the defendant accountable.

Chavez: And what does the defense have to do to counter those horrific images and testimony?

Kan:  It's a great question because it's, it's actually, the answer is: nothing. They don't have to do anything to counter that; I think the defense was very brilliant in conceding that this was an awful, awful incident, lots of people got hurt, lots of people died, but that has nothing to do with my client.

The defense is saying 'look, this is awful but there's nothing that ties this to my client. Therefore, I'm not going to even cross-examine some of the witnesses because there's no need, there's no need to put these victims through further trauma because they have been traumatized, but again not because of my client, but because of the shooter who has who has since deceased.'