Wednesday, April 11, 2018

NOT GUILTY verdict for Noor Salman

On the third day of deliberations the jury in the trial of Noor Salman announced that they had a verdict. The media was alerted by the court with an e-mail. It said, "Judge Byron's Chambers has just notified us that the jury has reached its verdict. The verdict will be published in open court in approximately 30 minutes. If you want to hear the verdict you must be in either Courtroom 4B (if you have a red media ticket) or in Courtroom 3A." I asked the court's media relations officer if I could get into courtroom 4B this one last time for the announcement. She agreed and I was given a blue ticket at the last moment when she was sure the room was not full, which allowed me to enter as a member of the public. I settled in quickly, put on my binocular glasses and focused only on Noor and her attorneys as the jury entered.

The verdict was handed to a clerk of the court and she read each count. The room grew silent. Noor listened with her hand to her mouth and tears in her eyes. She was found not guilty of obstruction of justice, and not guilty of aiding and abetting her husband in his plans to murder 49 people inside the Pulse Nightclub on June 12, 2016. She broke down and sobbed when she realized she had been cleared of all charges. Her uncle and a cousin seated two rows behind her also cried when they heard the news. They huddled together hugging as they sobbed. My side of the courtroom had victims' families and survivors who were eerily silent and stone-faced. It was all over in a matter of 5 minutes. I only had enough time to scratch out the gesture of the attorney Fritz Scheller comforting Noor. I rushed back to my studio a few blocks away to finish up the sketch. I was one of the first people to exit the courtroom. The phalanx of TV cameras were waiting to hear the verdict first hand.

"Noor can go home now to her son, resume her life and try to pick up the pieces from two years in jail," The family spokeswoman Susan Clary said, adding that the relatives were grateful for the verdict. Salman's relatives and Clary said they were sorry for the victims and survivors. Defense attorney Linda Moreno also expressed admiration for the victims' families and survivors.
"We're very grateful to this jury and to the Orlando community," she said. "Maybe this was the only community that could do this."

The jury foremen felt the need to contact the media to explain the verdict that had been reached. “As foreperson of the jury in the Noor Salman trial I felt it important that I present a juror’s perspective of the verdicts. I am giving you my perspective, and not speaking for the entire jury. My initial inclination was not to communicate with the news media at all, however once I returned home and watched the news coverage of the reactions to the verdicts I felt compelled to at least clarify several misconceptions.

First, I want to express my deepest sympathy to family and friends of the victims of this senseless tragedy. I understand the desire to hold someone accountable for this heinous act of violence. Omar Mateen is dead. He cannot be punished. It is only logical the world would look next to Noor Salman.
These past few days have been very difficult. We listened carefully to opening arguments, testimonies from both prosecution and defense witnesses, viewed many exhibits and heard closing statements. We received many pages of documentation from the court outlining very specific instructions related to the charges and how we should apply the law. We used these detailed instructions, our courtroom notes, and all evidence presented by both sides in our deliberations.

Having said that, I want to make several things very clear. A verdict of not guilty did NOT mean that we thought Noor Salman was unaware of what Omar Mateen was planning to do. On the contrary we were convinced she did know. She may not have known what day, or what location, but she knew. However, we were not tasked with deciding if she was aware of a potential attack. The charges were aiding and abetting and obstruction of justice. I felt that both the prosecution and the defense did an excellent job presenting their case. I wish that the FBI had recorded their interviews with Ms. Salman as there were several significant inconsistencies with the written summaries of her statements. The bottom line is that, based on the letter of the law, and the detailed instructions provided by the court, we were presented with no option but to return a verdict of not guilty.”

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