OAKLAND (CBS SF) — A federal judge in Oakland agreed Wednesday to release the widow of a man who shot and killed 49 people at a gay nightclub in Florida last year on a $500,000 bond.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Donna Ryu said federal prosecutors failed to convince her that Noor Salman, 30, is a flight risk or a threat to the community.
However, Ryu granted prosecutors a 48-hour stay so that they can appeal her ruling to the Middle District Court of Florida, which has jurisdiction in the case.
“The Florida court has the right to come to a different decision,” Ryu said.
That means the earliest that Salman could be released to the custody of her uncle, Abdallah Salman, who lives in Rodeo, is 11 a.m. on Friday.
Ryu said Noor Salman’s bond is secured by the $500,000 in equity that her uncle has in his house plus the $525,000 in equity that her mother, Ekbal Salman, has in her house, which also is in Rodeo.
Salman, who was dressed in a red jail jumpsuit and wore her hair in braids at her packed hearing today, is accused of aiding and abetting her husband, Omar Mateen, in providing support to a foreign terrorist organization, namely, the Islamic State, in the attack at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando on June 12.
Salman is also accused of obstructing justice by misleading local police and the FBI when she was questioned in the hours following the attack.
Along with the 49 killed, 53 other people were injured in the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history. Mateen died in a shootout with police.
Salman was arrested in January at her mother’s house in Rodeo, where she and her 4-year-old son had been living since September.
Ryu said she believes the weight of the government’s evidence against Salman “is debatable at this time.”
Prosecutor Sara Sweeney alleged at a previous hearing that at the end of 16 hours of interrogation by FBI agents that began on June 12, Salman admitted she was aware that her husband left their home on June 11 with a rifle and a backpack full of ammunition and allegedly said she knew he was going to commit an attack.
Sweeney also alleged that Salman was aware that Mateen was watching a Islamic State recruiting video, accompanied him on three trips to case possible shooting sites and was with him when he bought ammunition.
But Ryu said what Sweeney described as Salman’s “alleged admissions” were made at the end of a lengthy interrogation at which she wasn’t represented by a lawyer and those statements might not be admissible in a trial.
Ryu also said Salman’s attorneys have argued that Salman was the victim of domestic abuse and a psychological evaluation shows that she suffers from cognitive deterioration that impairs her abstract thinking.
Orlando Police Chief John Mina said in a statement that he’s “disappointed” that Ryu plans to release Salman on bond.
Mina said, “Nothing can ease the pain we all feel about the senseless and brutal murders of 49 of our neighbors, friends, family members and loved ones.”
Mina added, “But I have full faith that she will ultimately be brought to justice and I remain grateful to federal authorities who worked tirelessly on this case for months to see that some measure of justice be served in this act of terror that has affected our community so deeply.”
Charles Swift, one of Salman’s lawyers, said Ryu’s ruling is “a just, equitable decision that allows her to be reunited with her family.”
Another defense attorney, Linda Moreno, said she’s glad that Ryu is allowing Salman to be released on bond, saying, “It’s extremely rare for so-called ‘terrorists’ to be released on bond.”
Moreno said she believes Ryu’s decision “is a statement on the weakness of the government’s case” against Salman.
Moreno said Salman “wants to be home and see her 4-year-old son.”
Swift said court officials decided it would be better that Salman be housed with her uncle at his Rodeo home instead of with her mother because her uncle speaks better English and has been the family member who has been communicating with federal authorities.
Ryu said Salman “has strong family support” and has no prior criminal record. She is one of four daughters in a family of Palestinian descent, was born in the U.S. and primarily grew up in the East Bay.
Salman’s lawyers said that after she was divorced from her abusive first husband, she met Mateen on an online dating site and moved with him to Fort Pierce, Florida, when they married.
If the Florida court doesn’t reverse her ruling, Ryu said Salman will “essentially be under house arrest for now” because she won’t be allowed to leave her uncle’s house except for when she meets with her lawyers or has to go to court and will have to wear a GPS monitor.
Ryu also said Salman must participate in mental health treatment and can’t renew her passport, which has expired.
Ryu scheduled a status conference hearing for Salman for March 9 in Oakland.
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