Noor Salman trial: Opening statements, first witnesses

By Deborah Souverain, Bailey Myers, Julie Gargotta, Erin Murray, Team Coverage
Last Updated: Wednesday, March 14, 2018, 10:09 PM EDT

The Noor Salman trial began Wednesday with a reminder to the jury from the federal judge -- Salman is innocent until prosecutors prove her guilty.

Salman is accused of knowing about her husband, Omar Mateen's, plans to carry out the massacre at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando in 2016, and of helping him.

In opening statements, federal prosecutor James Mandolfo said they had evidence that Salman's "encouragement of Omar Mateen" enabled him to carry out his attack. 

"This trial isn't about what she knew," Mandolfo said. "It's about what she did to help."

 Mandolfo also accused Salman of making false statements to hide her involvement in the case. 

Salman's attorney, Linda Moreno, however, called Mateen a monster who kept Salman in the dark about his other life. 

“Noor Salman was not Mateen’s partner, peer and certainly not his confidant,” Moreno said. 

Moreno said claims by prosecutors that Salman went with her husband to scout out locations only proves that went on family trips, but Salman had no idea what was going on in Mateen's head.

Moreno also said the FBI manipulated a vulnerable woman with a low IQ to get the statement from her they wanted. 

“They will ask you to rely on the recollection of FBI Agents," Moreno said. "They were able to manipulate and coerce her…remember trusting simple Noor Salman with an IQ of 84.”

Witness testimony begins

The first witnesses for prosecutors set the story of the Pulse nightclub attack on June 12, 2016. 


Orlando Police Officer Adam Gruler was the first to testify. He was one of the first officers to respond to the attack. Jurors also watched dash vam video of law enforcement pulling up to the club, where the sounds of rapid gunfire could be heard.

Gruler described the scene inside the nightclub:

“When I entered the club there were people down,” Gruler said.

“No matter where we were we were stepping in blood.”


Bobbie Rodriguez was in a women's bathroom at Pulse at the time of the shooting, and was forced to hide under a dead man's body and pretend she was dead herself to prevent from being shot by Mateen after he entered the bathroom. 

Rodriguez testified about a conversation she overheard Mateen have with someone on the phone during the attack while he was in the bathroom. She testified that she heard Mateen call someone "bro" and telling them to "light it up," referring to a bomb vest, should police come inside.

Jurors then heard several phone calls of victims from inside the bathroom as the shooting unfolded. 


Former 911 dispatcher Jessica Brookes took several calls related to the shooting, including one from Mateen himself, which was played for the court. 

The call was brief, and Mateen never said his name. 


The fourth witness was Spectrum News 13 producer Matthew Gentili, who took a call from Mateen at the station the night of the attack. He related the details of that conversation. STORY FROM 2016


Orlando police crisis negotiator Andrew Brenan talked about the conversations he had with Mateen, as they police tried to identify him, determine if his claims that people were prepared to detonate bombs in the surrounding area, and anyone else Matten may have known or may have helped him.

Judge Paul Byron spent over a week picking a jury for the trial. Several people had to be excused because they had connections to the Pulse attack, while others were excused because of their feelings about Islam.


An expert on terrorism working for a company called S.T.A.R.T. talked about ISIS, the creation of its identity and the evolution of the organization as observed by Braniff's terrorism analytics. 

The prosecution focused on Mateen's Facebook history, where he reportedly pled allegiance to ISIS. Braniff said the verbage Mateen used -- claiming allegiance -- is an "old world way" of joining a group.

Braniff then spoke about the process of becoming radicalized, which he said happens over time. 


The seventh witness went to Pulse with his friends the night of the deadly shooting. Rodriguez, who works with the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office and was formerly with the Florida Highway Patrol, said he was celebrating his graduation from FHP that night. He said several of his friends lost their lives.

"You can just imagine, everyone is going crazy," he said in an emotional testimony.

Rodriguez added, "It was dark, and I thought I was going to die that night."


The eight witness was an Orlando Police Department officer working extra duty the night of the Pulse shooting. When he arrived, he said he tried to enter the back of the club, but there was no entrance.

When he went around to enter from the front, he described that there were a large amount of people on the ground and said he didn't know the number of shooters at that point.

During his testimony, body camera video shows Olson carrying a victim to his truck.


The ninth witness is an OPD officer who responded to the shooting that night. He helped carry victims out of the nightclub, which was shown through body cam shootage.

Live Blog LIVE UPDATES: Noor Salman Trial

Before the trial, the defense tried to limit certain topics prosecutors could bring up to the jury, like that Mateen did not target Pulse because it was a popular nightclub for Orlando's LGBTQ community, but the judge denied most of their request.

Salman's defense team made four requests to silence certain pieces of evidence during opening statements.

Among the motions, was an attempt to prevent the prosecution from mentioning that the gunman targeted the gay community by choosing Pulse. Mateen made several phone calls during the attack at Pulse and pledged his allegiance to ISIS.

The defense also tried to prevent prosecutors from saying that Salman was present when Mateen purchased .38 caliber pistol ammunition as well as the fact the gunman made Salman the beneficiary to his bank account.

Judge Byron ruled against the defense's motions, allowing the prosecution to make those arguments if they choose too.

Prosecutors contend that Mateen became radicalized by terrorist group ISIS and Salman knowingly helped her husband scope out Pulse nightclub for the attack, as well as other potential targets that include Eve nightclub in downtown Orlando and Disney Springs at Walt Disney World.

The jury is made of up 12 women and six men.

A former federal prosecutor Spectrum News spoke to about the case says jurors are carefully selected to help bolster their case.

"It indicates that you’re going to have some evidence that just is tedious, that is boring. You’re going to have some evidence that is incredibly compelling and powerful. Mixing that into the day to make the entire trial something they can follow is really important," said David Hass of the Haas Law Firm.

Salman's defense did get one 911 call thrown out. Byron said the call which was between a victim and dispatchers was not necessary.  

Reactions from outside

“We’re continuing to be concerned that Noor Salman is getting a fair trial and has a right to due process," said Ahmed Bedier, with United Voices for America. “We make to make sure that Noor Salman is not scapegoated and punished for the crimes of other people.”

Salman’s family and supporters attended opening statements, insistent that the woman is not guilty of the crimes of which she's been accused.

“They’re very eager for the trial to begin and the truth come out about her innocence. We’re really looking forward to the government presenting its case, showing you how circumstantial it is and how little they have," said Susan Clary, who represents the family.

They also conveyed their concern for Salman's health following her arrest.

“She’s afraid, and she’s been depressed — by herself 24 hours a day," Clary added.

Others, wearing rainbow pins, filed into the courtroom as well. Pulse club owner, Barbara Poma, was among the attendees.

Meanwhile, the mother of a Pulse shooting victim was distraught after hearing testimony Thursday morning of one of the first officers inside the nightclub.

“Someone with an armed assault weapon wouldn’t have walked right into a gun free zone and slaughtered my son and his boyfriend, along with 47 others," said Christine Leinonen, her eyes brimming with tears. “He has my son’s blood on his hands.”

Others, with no perceivable tie to the shooter nor suspect, came to raise awareness of social justice.

“We want, at the end of the trial, to look back at it and say in this great house of law, hate had no home in the proceedings that took place," said Pastor Warren Clark, who drove from Saint Augustine for the trial's start. 

Spectrum News 13 will be there and bring you the latest inside and outside the court.

The trial will continue Thursday at 9 a.m.