March 28, 2018 / 10:15 AM / a year ago

Jury in trial of Orlando gunman's widow starts deliberations

ORLANDO, Fla. (Reuters) - A U.S. jury weighing the fate of a woman whose husband killed 49 people at a Florida nightclub in 2016 began deliberations on Wednesday after her defense attorney said federal agents coerced her into saying she played a role in the rampage.

FILE PHOTO: Investigators work the scene following a mass shooting at the Pulse gay nightclub in Orlando Florida, U.S. on June 12, 2016. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri/File Photo

Noor Salman, 31, could face life in prison if convicted of helping her husband Omar Mateen plan the attack on the Pulse nightclub and then failing to do anything to stop one of the worst mass shootings in modern U.S. history.

The jury in U.S. District Court broke for the night after starting deliberations on Wednesday afternoon. It will resume work at 9 a.m. EDT on Thursday, a court aide told reporters.

In closing arguments on Wednesday, defense lawyer Charles Swift said that FBI agents had planted Salman’s statements during initial questioning that she had helped Mateen case targets.

“That’s his words,” Swift said, referring to one of the first interrogators who transcribed what Salman said. “Those are not her words.”

Swift said FBI agents questioned Salman for more than 11 hours and her statement was filled with phrases Salman would never have used, such as “green light” and “long gun.”

He also said Salman could not have known that her husband would attack the Pulse, a gay nightspot.

“Even Omar didn’t know he was going to attack the Pulse nightclub,” Swift said. “If he doesn’t know, she can’t know.”

In her closing statement, prosecutor Sara Sweeney contended that Salman had helped her husband check out potential sites and later sought to mislead investigators about what she knew.

Sweeney said Salman first told investigators that Mateen had acted without her knowledge but later admitted knowing he had left home with a gun and had watched jihadist videos online.

The prosecutor also said Salman had aided Mateen by making up a cover story to his mother on the night of the shooting that he was going to dinner with a friend.

Salman faces charges of obstruction of justice and aiding Mateen in providing support to the Islamic State militant group. Mateen had claimed allegiance to a leader of the group. Police killed him in an exchange of gunfire at the nightclub.

On Monday, Judge Paul Byron rejected a defense motion to dismiss the charges against Salman or declare a mistrial because the prosecution had failed to disclose Mateen’s father had been an FBI informant before the attack.

Writing by Ian Simpson; editing by Jonathan Oatis and Cynthia Osterman

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