Judge: Allow Pulse killer’s widow to be free on bond
A federal judge agreed Wednesday to release the wife of the Orlando, Fla., nightclub killer on “strict conditions,” but issued a 48-hour stay so prosecutors can appeal to a Florida judge.
Noor Zahi Salman, 30, of Rodeo, Calif., will be released on a $500,000 bond and will be “essentially on house arrest,” if the Florida judge backs the release order. She will be tried in Florida, where she was charged.
“The Florida court has the right to come to a different decision,” U.S. District Court Judge Donna Ryu said of the release.
Federal prosecutors described Salman as “calculating and callous,” saying she knew her husband planned a terror attack on the nightclub last summer and did nothing to stop it.
She went on three trips to check possible attack sites and told FBI investigators she had seen her husband watching violent jihadist videos in front of their young son, and even heard him say “This is the day,” before he left to carry out the attack at the Pulse nightclub, prosecutors said at Wednesday’s detention hearing, arguing to keep Salman behind bars.
“He walks out with a gun and a backpack full of ammo. There can’t be a doubt in her mind that he’s going to carry out an attack,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Sara Sweeney said.
Omar Mateen, 29, who declared his allegiance to the Islamic State, was killed by SWAT officers after he killed 49 people and wounded more than 50 others at the nightclub on June 12, 2016. It was the deadliest attack in modern times involving a single gunman and the deadliest targeting the LGBTQ community in the U.S.
Salman is facing life in prison on charges that she aided her husband in a terrorist attack and obstruction of justice.
Defense attorneys said Wednesday that Salman is being scapegoated by the government for horrific crimes committed by her husband. They described her as a former special education student with learning disabilities who was physically and mentally abused by Mateen and who lived an isolated life focused on their young son.
“What we heard today was the case against Omar Mateen. This was not a case against Noor Salman,” defense attorney Linda Moreno said. “The government laid out a theoretical, extremely thin prosecution case against Noor that was based on speculation, based on statements they claim she made during an 18-hour interrogation that was conducted without counsel.
“We frankly expected more,” Moreno said of the prosecution’s evidence. “We now know there is no more to this case.”
Salman, who moved to her family’s home in California after the attack, has been on suicide watch since she was arrested Jan. 16. Dressed in a red jail jumpsuit and wearing her hair in braids, she spent the hearing taking notes and passing them to her attorney with a trembling hand. At times, she silently cried and wiped tears.
Authorities search the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Fla., after a mass shooting last June. A federal judge has agreed to release the killer’s wife on “strict conditions,” but issued a stay so that prosecutors can appeal to a Florida judge.