ORLANDO, Fla. – The Pulse nightclub shooter’s widow will stand trial in Orlando, a federal judge ordered Wednesday.
Noor Salman is charged with providing material support to a terror organization and obstruction of justice. Her husband, Omar Mateen, killed 49 people and injured at least 68 more when he opened fire in the gay nightclub in Orlando on June 12, 2016.
Salman tried to persuade the judge to hold the trial in another city, saying she could not get a fair trial in Orlando.
Federal judges are constitutionally required to hold trials in the same community where the crime occurred, unless the accused can prove publicity was so inflammatory and prejudicial that the community was saturated and an impartial jury could not be chosen.
“The Court finds that the pretrial publicity in this case does not satisfy the prejudicial and inflammatory prong of the analysis, and the volume of coverage does not rise to the level of saturation,” U.S. District Judge Paul Byron wrote in an order denying Salman’s request.
Venue changes are rare and the burden on the accused is heavy. Even Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was denied a change of venue. He is appealing his convictions and death sentence, arguing the judge in his case should have moved his trial.
Salman’s attorneys said in a September filing that ubiquitous media coverage and statements from local officials such as Orlando Police Chief John Mina created an environment in which Salman would not be able to find an impartial jury.
The motion cites Mina’s tweets and statements to the press, including “I am glad to see that Omar Mateen’s wife has been charged with aiding her husband in the commission of the brutal attack on the Pulse nightclub.”
It also mentions headlines and stories, including a New York Post front page proclaiming “She could have saved them all.”
“To enumerate all the articles relating to Ms. Salman’s investigation, indictment, arrest, and trial proceedings would require pages and pages of exhibits appended to this Motion,” attorney Charles Swift wrote, referring to the coverage of the attack.
The federal Middle District of Florida, where Salman is being tried, includes five counties and about 2.8 million people, the judge wrote in his order. Byron pointed out less than one percent of the population reacted to Mina’s social media posts. He also wrote Salman’s lawyers did not point to local media coverage that implied she is guilty.
“If a smoking gun of adverse pretrial publicity were among the articles written by Orlando Sentinel’s journalists, one would expect Defendant to direct the Court to that material,” Byron wrote.
Byron noted tools he and the attorneys are using to safeguard the jury, including the uncommon step of having potential jurors fill out questionnaires as part of jury selection. Attorneys will use the responses to eliminate some of them from the jury pool. The rest will be called back to the courthouse for jury selection.
Salman’s trial is scheduled for March.
(Orlando Sentinel staff writer Gal Tziperman Lotan contributed to this report.)
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