When Orlando police Detective Adam Gruler heard gunshots while working off-duty security outside Pulse nightclub in the early hours of June 12, 2016, at first he thought it was a “typical nightclub shooting,” with one person targeting another, he testified this morning.
“We didn’t know the extent in that moment,” he said, choking up as he spoke.
Gruler was the first witness called to testify in the trial of Noor Salman, whose husband, Omar Mateen, sprayed bullets throughout Pulse, a gay nightclub on Orange Avenue, killing 49 people and injuring dozens more. Gruler fired at Mateen, who retreated into the club.
Gruler said he knew he was outgunned, recognizing the high-powered rifle Mateen was using by its sound.
“Time froze. There was no concept of any time for me,” Gruler said, as Pulse survivors and the families of victims wiped away tears nearby in the courtroom. When he entered the club later, there were multiple people down, some still alive, Gruler said. “No matter where we stepped, there was blood.”
Before Gruler took the stand, defense attorney Linda Moreno gave her opening statement in the trial, telling the jury that Salman is a “trusting, simple” person with a low IQ, who had no idea that “she would wake up a widow, and Omar Mateen a martyr for a cause that she didn’t support.”
Mateen’s intentions and motivations, Moreno said in her opening statement, were a mystery to his wife — and remain so to this day.
“We don’t know what was in that monster’s mind,” she said.
Moreno’s remarks stood in stark contrast to the opening statements of Assistant U.S. Attorney James Mandolfo, who during the government’s opening statement earlier this morning said that, when Mateen opened fire inside Pulse, he did so with the help of his wife.
“This trial is about what the defendant knew,” Assistant U.S. Attorney James Mandolfo told Salman’s jury, during opening statements on the trial’s ninth day. He said prosecutors would prove Salman and Mateen spent “thousands of dollars to prepare for the attack,” and she knowingly hid her husband’s intentions from his family and the police.
“The defendant’s cold actions gave Omar Mateen a green light to commit these crimes on behalf of ISIS,” he said.
Salman passed notes to her attorney during Mandolfo’s opening remarks.
Testimony is now underway in Salman’s trial, after attorneys for the government and defense wrapped up their opening statements. Salman is accused of aiding her husband in the planning of the June 12, 2016, attack at Pulse and also of lying to federal investigators in the hours afterward.
“We don’t have to prove that she took the same steps as Mateen. We don’t have to prove that she’s an extremist,” Mandolfo said, adding that prosecutors would prove that Salman knowingly delayed the investigation into the nightclub shooting. “That is referred to as obstruction of justice.”
Salman was in a unique position to prevent the killing, Mandolfo said.
“At 2:02 a.m., Omar Mateen calmly walked inside the Pulse nightclub… methodically killing 49 people and injuring 53 others,” he said. “No one knew the horrific events that were going to unfold… No one knew. Except two people,” Mateen and Salman, he said.
But Moreno said the trips that the government calls “casing” or “scouting” trips were only family outings in Salman’s mind. “The evidence will show you that these were family outings,” she said. Moreno argued the 11-hour-long FBI interrogation of Salman the day of the Pulse shooting had “no integrity.”
“The statements that they said that Noor said are provably false,” Moreno said. “Noor Salman denied any knowledge of Mateen’s plans for several hours… but that’s not what they wanted to hear.”
She also pointed to evidence that Moreno said will show that Salman was “susceptible to coercion” during the FBI interrogation. “Her personality doesn’t understand the seriousness of what’s going on,” Moreno said. “They got her to say that they scouted the Pulse club, but we know this is false.”
This morning, Bob Kunst of Miami Beach stood near the federal courthouse on Central Boulevard, holding a pair of signs: “NOOR ‘KNEW’ NOW ‘49’ KILLED” said one, while the other said, “‘FRY’ HER TILL SHE HAS NO ‘PULSE.’”
Kunst was also present on the first day of a trial that otherwise hasn’t drawn demonstrators, though survivors of the Pulse massacre and family members of those killed have been present in court.
“Isn’t it amazing, after all of this— where’s the rest of the community? I’m out here freezing my behind off,” Kunst said. “Where is the gay community, or anybody else, taking a moral position on what’s going on here?”
Members of Salman’s family were also seen entering the courthouse today.
Salman is the only person charged in the attack. Mateen was killed in a shootout with police.
If convicted, she faces up to life in prison.
Mateen’s conversations with a hostage negotiator, 911 audio from victims inside the nightclub during the attack and photos and videos of the carnage at Pulse are expected to be introduced as evidence in the trial. During the trial’s first eight days, potential jurors were warned of the graphic materials they would likely see if chosen to decide the case.
Salman is not required to testify. She may if she chooses to, but the 12-person jury is not allowed to consider her refusal to testify as evidence of guilt.
Salman has pleaded not guilty and her lawyers and family have denied she had anything to do with Mateen’s plot.
FBI agents said Salman confessed to having prior knowledge and being with Mateen when he scoped out Pulse and bought ammunition. Defense lawyers Charles Swift and Moreno plan to call an expert on false confessions to testify that Salman’s statements were not reliable. An expert on domestic violence is also expected to testify in support of the defense’s theory that Mateen was so abusive that Salman was afraid to question his actions leading up to the attack, according to court filings.
However, in court today, Mandolfo said Salman knew Mateen had been looking at jihadist material that was so extreme, she would have to pull her 3-year-old son away from the room.
Mandolfo said Salman scoped out Disney Springs with her husband before the shooting. “He said, ‘What would make people more upset – an attack at a club or an attack at Disney?’” the prosecutor claimed.
Prosecutors have said they do not intend to argue Mateen’s attack was targeting the gay community, but was instead a terrorist attack in the name of the Islamic State.
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