OAKLAND (CBS SF/AP) — The widow of the Orlando nightclub gunman pleaded not guilty Wednesday to helping her husband plan and carry out the attack that left 49 people dead last June and later misleading investigators.
Noor Salman, 30, entered the plea in the courtroom of U.S. Magistrate Judge Donna Ryu Wednesday morning. Eventually the court proceedings are expected to move to Florida, where Salman was indicted last Thursday.
Salman knew about the attack ahead of time and then hindered the criminal investigation when she lied to FBI agents after the shooting, according to prosecutors who were in an Oakland court Wednesday to discuss transferring her to Florida.
An attorney who represented Salman during the investigation, Charles Swift of the Constitutional Law Center for Muslims in America, appeared in court Wednesday on her behalf, but the Texas-based attorney is still determining whether he will be able to represent her in California. For now, San Francisco attorney Sam Amin is serving as her local counsel.
Amin said outside of court that he has not spoken to her yet, while Swift sat in on an interview for her upcoming bail hearing. Federal prosecutors have revealed little about the case, but Assistant U.S. Attorney Roger Handberg from the Middle District of Florida said that prosecutors would be presenting evidence at the upcoming bail hearing.
“I believe that everybody deserves a fair day in court and everybody is presumed innocent until proven guilty,” said Amin.
Salman came into court with her shoulders hunched, wearing a red jail jumpsuit, a change from Tuesday when she was wearing the pajamas she was arrested in Monday morning.
Her uncle Al Salman brought a backpack full of clothes for her, but had been unable to give it to her. He said he hopes she’ll be able to see her 4-year-old son before she’s extradited.
“He hides behind the couch when the news comes on,” Al Salman said.
Noor Salman could be seen blowing a kiss to her uncle before she was taken away Wednesday morning.
The case is expected to remain in Oakland until Feb. 1, when there is a bail hearing scheduled. Until then, Salman will remain at the Santa Rita Jail.
It is the second day in court for Salman. On Tuesday, a visibly nervous and bewildered Salman quietly acknowledged that she understood the two felony charges alleging she assisted her husband and obstructed justice. She could face life in prison if convicted of both counts.
She didn’t enter a plea and was ordered back to court Wednesday for the formal appointment of a lawyer and discussions on how to transfer her and the case to federal court in Orlando, where a grand jury indicted her.
She was arrested Monday at her mother’s home in Rodeo, a middle-class suburb about 25 miles northeast of San Francisco.
Salman, 30, was raised in the San Francisco Bay Area and lived in Fort Pierce, Florida, with her husband Omar Mateen when he attacked the Pulse nightclub on June 12.
“She knew he was going to conduct the attack,” federal prosecutor Roger Handberg told the judge Tuesday. Handberg did not disclose any more details and would not comment after the 15-minute hearing held in a courtroom packed with security officers.
Outside court, Salman’s uncle Al Salman said his niece was innocent and did nothing to help Mateen plan the attack on the gay nightclub.
“She’s a very soft and sweet girl,” Salman said. “She would not hurt a fly.”
The indictment charges her with aiding and abetting Mateen in providing material support and resources to the Islamic State group between April and June of last year. She was also charged with obstruction, accused of misleading and lying to police and the FBI during their investigation.
The indictment gave no additional details on Salman’s actions.
During the standoff, Mateen pledged allegiance to the Islamic State in a 911 call. He was killed in a shootout with SWAT officers. In addition to the 49 victims killed, 53 people were injured.
In California, next-door neighbor Glauber Franchi said he was unaware that Noor Salman was living with her mother until she was arrested Monday.
“It’s a very private family, very quiet family,” Franchi said. “You don’t see them. You barely see them on the street. They’re good people from my knowledge. Never had a problem.”
Al Salman said that Noor Salman was physically and mentally abused by Mateen and that she stayed with him for fear of losing custody of their son.
Charles Swift, director of the Richardson, Texas-based Constitutional Law Center for Muslims in America, planned to represent Noor Salman at the Wednesday hearing, said public defender John Paul Reichmuth, who served as her attorney Tuesday.
Linda Moreno, a Florida attorney who also represents Salman, said after her arrest that the widow “had no foreknowledge nor could she predict what Omar Mateen intended to do that tragic night.”
Salman told The New York Times in an interview published in November that she knew her husband had watched jihadist videos but that she was “unaware of everything” regarding his intent to shoot up the club. Salman also said he had physically abused her.
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