Noor Salman trial: Judge whittles potential jurors

By Greg Angel, Reporter
Last Updated: Wednesday, March 07, 2018, 9:14 PM EST

A panel of jurors who will decide the fate of Noor Salman could be set as early as Friday.

The process to pick a jury in the trial of the Pulse gunman's wife has been months in the works, beginning with an exhaustive questionnaire that potential jurors were asked to fill out.

Now, they're answering questions from federal Judge Paul Byron who, one by one is trying to determine whether those picked for the jury will give Salman a fair trial.

Noor Salman, in federal court in Orlando for the past five days, is paying close attention to jury selection, as well as taking notes.

Her fate will soon be in the hands of 12 people picked to hear the case against her. Prosecutors say she helped her husband plan his deadly 2016 attack at Pulse nightclub that killed 49 people.

During his days of questioning, Byron has found bias in some potential jurors. Of the 76 questioned so far for the panel, at least 17 have been excused because of perceived opinions and biases on a number of incendiary issues, including Islam, immigration, guns, or Salman’s guilt.

In court, each potential juror is questioned for anywhere from 15 to 45 minutes. Sometimes, their bias is obvious, but other times, the bias is revealed through several follow-up questions from the judge.

Byron has reiterated to each potential juror that they are to consider Noor Salman innocent, as he searches for a slate of jurors he considers fair, open-minded, and void of any bias. 

Much of the judge’s questioning has also focused on what potential jurors may have seen in the media in the time since the June 12, 2016 nightclub shooting.

Byron said the idea is to get a pool of 60 open-minded individuals. After that, the final jury of 12, plus six alternates, will likely be seated soon after.

Jury selection is expected to continue at least through Friday, but may stretch to Monday.

At the end of day five Wednesday, 42 people have been placed into the jury pool. Judge Paul Byron wants a final pool of 60, which will then be whittled down to a final jury of 12, plus 6 alternates.

Defense files motion for opening statements

The defense has filed a motion to block what prosecutors can say in opening statements of the Salman trial.

Defense attorneys want prosecutors to be barred from telling jurors that the shooting at Pulse was an intentional attack on the gay community.

Attorneys say evidence will show Omar Mateen did not pre-plan the attack, because he went to Disney Springs and Eve nightclub in the hours before the shooting.

The motion says Google searches and cell tower data on the evening of the attack show Mateen was at Disney Springs and that he allegedly searched "downtown orlando nightclubs" and wound up at Eve Orlando before traveling south to Pulse.

The defense contends that Pulse was targeted simply because it had less security than Disney Springs and Eve nightclub. It also says the data, plus receipts and video footage, preclude the possibility that either Mateen or Salman scouted Pulse on June 8. In other words, the defense claims Salman did not aid the attack.

Prosecutors have yet to file a response to this specific motion but have said in past filings that Noor Salman has given multiple statements to the FBI.

According to court records, Salman told the FBI in a written statement that she and Mateen went to Orlando the week before and scoped out Pulse.

“When I went to Orlando with Omar last week we drove around the Pulse Night Club after we ate at the Arabic restaurant. We drove around the Pulse nightclub for about 20 minutes with the windows of the car down. Omar was driving slowly, looking around and at one point stated ‘how upset are people going to be when it gets attacked!'” the court record said.

Records suggest Salman also told the FBI that she later saw Mateen looking at the Pulse website on a home computer, when he told her “this is my target."