The second wife of Pulse nightclub shooter Omar Mateen could face criminal charges following the release of new information that she was aware of the gunman’s plans before his attack and said she tried to stop him from carrying out his deadly mission.
Details emerged Tuesday after Noor Zahi Salman, who has a 3-year-old son with Mateen, was taken in for questioning by the FBI.
Salman, who was listed as Mateen’s spouse on St. Lucie County mortgage papers in 2013, was given a polygraph, CBS News reported. The network also reported that she told authorities Mateen had become radicalized over the past year.
Salman told the FBI that she was with Mateen when he bought the ammunition and a holster for the weapon he would use during the deadly shooting, NBC News reported. FBI officials also told NBC News that she once drove her husband to Pulse nightclub so that he could “case” the popular gay club in Orlando.
The question now is whether Salman will face charges, and if so, how severe.
Yahoo News Now’s Paul Beban spoke to former southern Florida U.S. Attorney Kendall Coffey on Tuesday about the charges that Salman may now face.
Coffey stressed that the degree of severity of the charges will directly correlate with the extent to which she was involved in the crime. In order for her to be charged with aiding and abetting a crime, he said, Salman must have taken some “affirmative step.”
“If she drove him to get ammunition or to case the crime scene, I think that’s enough to warrant very serious charges if she had requisite knowledge of the crimes,” Coffey said.
Salman and Mateen’s marital status won’t grant Salman criminal immunity — plenty of couples have been partners in crime, Coffey said.
“If the authorities have evidence beyond reasonable doubt that she did everything knowing what he was going to do, then I think she will face very serious criminal charges,” he said.
Tim Heaphy, a former federal prosecutor in Virginia, called Salman’s case a “gray area,” based on what we know now, but he said that if prosecutors can prove she knew Mateen had a plan to kill people and willingly helped him do so, she could be charged with murder.
However, if she expressed a desire for him not to go through with the crime, as she claims she did, it’s “really unlikely” this would happen. Heaphy also said it would also be hard to prove that Salman believed Mateen would go through with his threats.
“It’s pretty hard to prove that she’s doing it to facilitate the commission of the crime,” Heaphy said. “You can’t be an unwitting accomplice to a crime.”
If Mateen threatened her in any way, Salman can use a “duress” defense by saying she was too frightened to alert authorities, Heaphy said, adding that Salman’s cooperation with investigators will also likely help her case.
Michael E. Tigar, a professor emeritus of law at Duke University School of Law, offered a similar analysis of the possible implications of Salman’s alleged role.
“The criminal law attaches liability to those who participate in the planning and carrying out of a crime with the knowledge that a crime is going to occur with the intention to further it,” he said.
“There is some danger in this situation,” Tigar said. “The shooter is dead, so the prosecutors may overstate the evidence to prosecute someone who’s living.”