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Wife Of Orlando Nightclub Gunman Acquitted Of All Charges

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

The only person charged in the mass shooting at Orlando's Pulse nightclub in 2016 has been cleared on all counts. Prosecutors had accused the gunman's widow, Noor Salman, of obstructing justice and helping her husband plan the attack that killed dozens of people. Amy Green of member station WMFE was in the courtroom today and filed this report.

AMY GREEN, BYLINE: In the moments before learning her fate, Noor Salman's hands shook, and her attorney gripped them and rubbed her shoulder. On the desk in front of her was an open Bible. She and her family members wept as the not guilty verdict was read aloud. Her uncle, Al Salman, described what went through his mind and what it means for his niece.

AL SALMAN: You're going to go back to your son. Now that's the only thing she have in her life, her son. That's all she want.

GREEN: The emotional scene at the federal courthouse in Orlando took place about two miles from the club where Salman's husband, Omar Mateen, went on a three-hour rampage and killed 49 people. Laly Santiago-Leon stopped by the courthouse on her way to Pulse. She lost her cousin in the June 2016 massacre and said she had hoped for more closure from the verdict.

LALY SANTIAGO-LEON: With the trial being here, it kind of opens up a lot of wounds, so - and my outcome was kind of hoping that my long day - the - June 12 would be finished. And it's still kind of continuous.

GREEN: In the hours after the shooting, Salman confessed to FBI agents that she knew about her husband's plans. She told them she knew Mateen browsed jihadist websites and feared he might do something violent. She said he told her Pulse was his target and that they had cased the nightclub together. At trial, Salman's attorneys argued that statements were coerced and false. They said cellphone and computer data contradicted some of the claims.

And a psychiatrist testified that Salman's low intelligence and symptoms of mental illness like extreme anxiety and hallucinations would make her prone to giving a false confession. Prosecutor Sarah Sweeney told reporters outside the courthouse that the verdict was disappointing, but she respected the jurors' decision.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SARAH SWEENEY: We appreciate all of their hard work and thank them for their service in this case.

GREEN: The prosecution's case had hinged on Salman's statements to the FBI. When the defense's evidence put those claims in doubt, Sweeney suggested an alternate theory. She said during closing arguments that Walt Disney World, not Pulse, was the original target, and that the couple had visited the park. And there was another twist during the trial.

Salman's attorneys asked the judge for a mistrial this week after prosecutors disclosed that Mateen's father had served as an FBI informant for many years before the attack. And an FBI agent testified at trial that he had even considered using Mateen as an informant at one point. After the jury found her not guilty, a tired-looking Salman left the courthouse guided by her attorney. A spokeswoman for the family, Susan Clary, said they were looking forward to reuniting.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SUSAN CLARY: We just want to get them to a place where they can see her and, you know, hug her and hold her.

GREEN: After the verdict, Pulse owner Barbara Poma released a statement calling for unity and focus on helping communities emerge from hate and violence. Meanwhile, a small crowd gathered at the club where construction is underway to turn it into a temporary memorial. For NPR News, I'm Amy Green in Orlando.

(SOUNDBITE OF MR COOPER'S "FOUR") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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