Al Salman speaks to the press following a court appearance by his niece Noor Salman on January 17, 2017 in Oakland, California.
Image: Getty

A Florida federal jury has found Noor Salman, widow of the man who killed almost 50 people at Orlando’s Pulse nightclub during Gay Pride month in 2016, not guilty of helping her husband carry out the attack or of obstructing the FBI’s investigation. In a verdict the Washington Post describes as “stunning,” the outcome marks a loss for federal prosecutors, who argued before an Orlando jury and rarely lose terrorism cases.

Salman, who had maintained her innocence throughout, was accused of aiding and abetting Omar Matteen’s massacre and misleading law enforcement officials regarding her involvement in what was then the deadliest mass shooting in recent history. She could have faced a maximum life sentence.

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Prosecutors mounted their case on an 11-hour taped confession in which Salman told agents she knew that Mateen was buying weapons, watching ISIS videos, and considering potential locations for an attack, but defense lawyers argued the tape, recorded without a lawyer present, was tantamount to a false confession from a woman who was vulnerable to intimidation. Investigators did not find evidence supporting Salman knowledge that Pulse was a target—in fact, surveillance footage shows Mateen first visited the House of Blues at Disney Springs, and looked for nightclubs in his GPS, later landing on Pulse.

The prosecution failed to convince the jury that Salman had willingly participated in Matteen’s ISIS-inspired plot. Instead, they sided with defense lawyers, who portrayed Salman as “an innocent dupe” whom “the FBI took advantage of her lack of sophistication to convince her to admit to things she did not do,” the Post reported. Salman was also an alleged victim of domestic violence, fearful of her bullying husband. In an interview with the New York Times in 2016, she said that Mateen routinely physically abused her and threatened to kill her if she spoke out against him. “Why would Omar Mateen confide in Noor, a woman he clearly had no respect for?” asked Salman’s defense lawyer, Linda Moreno.

Upon hearing the verdict, Salman’s family members told the The New York Times:

Ms. Salman’s family members said they were overjoyed by the verdict but continued to grieve for the Pulse victims.

“I feel so sad for them,” said Susan Adieh, Ms. Salman’s cousin. She added that a guilty verdict would not have brought back the dead but would have forced Ms. Salman to pay for her husband’s mass murder. “We can’t commit another innocent person as well.”

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“I believe in our criminal justice system and am grateful for the jury’s hard work and thoughtful deliberation,” said Orlando Police Chief John Mina. “Nothing can erase the pain we all feel about the senseless and brutal murders of 49 of our neighbors, friends, family members and loved ones.”