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Jury Selection Set To Begin For Trial Of Wife Of Pulse Nightclub Shooter

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

The gunman in Orlando's Pulse nightclub mass shooting had been killed on the scene, but he left a widow. Noor Salman is accused of knowing about her husband's plans for the attack that left 49 dead and dozens more wounded. Jury selection in her trial starts tomorrow. Amy Green of WMFE reports.

AMY GREEN, BYLINE: Salman is charged with obstruction of justice and providing material support to a terrorist organization. Her husband, Omar Mateen, declared an allegiance to ISIS before officers gunned him down in a shootout, ending his three-hour rampage at the gay nightclub in 2016. One of the biggest challenges facing jurors will be separating the shooter's actions from Salman's, says Karen Greenberg, director of the Center on National Security at Fordham University.

KAREN GREENBERG: You really want to address the tremendous tragedy and injustice that was visited upon Orlando's people by this crime. To have somebody in custody who is a proxy defendant is something you definitely want to avoid.

GREEN: The trial will take place in Orlando just 2 miles from Pulse despite Salman's request for a change of venue. Salman's defense suffered another setback last week. A judge decided a statement she gave to FBI agents hours after her husband's attack will be admissible at trial. She wrote, I'm sorry for what happened. I wish I'd go back and tell his family and the police what he was going to do. Salman told the agents she knew about her husband's plans and that when he left the house that day, she understood he was on his way to Pulse.

Her attorneys say Salman was not given proper Miranda warnings before she made the statement and that it's not true. She's denied any involvement in the massacre. Salman is a rare female defendant facing terrorism-related charges. Charles Rose, a legal expert at Stetson University, says prosecutors will have to lay out how her husband was radicalized.

CHARLES ROSE: How it happened, when it happened, when the wife knew or must have known about it and make an argument that once he became radicalized, when she assisted him in accomplishing his goals as a radicalized terrorist, that she was aiding and abetting in furtherance of his plans.

GREEN: Salman has said she's a victim of domestic violence. Rose says the defense may argue the abuse left her with few choices.

ROSE: It's not that she intended to participate with him. It's that she was forced to be present when he was planning the activity because of the abusive nature of their relationship - that if she hadn't chosen to be present, she would have suffered such abuse, that she had to make a survival choice.

GREEN: Mia Bloom says that argument isn't good enough. She's a terrorism expert at Georgia State University.

MIA BLOOM: There is no amount of trauma that can prevent you from picking up the phone when the person's not in the room and they're not in the same city and they're en route and alerting the police. Lives could have been saved.

GREEN: Fordham's Karen Greenberg says if Salman is convicted, the case will send an important message.

GREENBERG: If you think somebody is about to be involved in a terrorist attack or any kind of mass murder, then they - and they have guns and they've said things that are worrisome, you need to step away from that or report it.

GREEN: Family members and survivors will be able to watch a TV feed of the proceedings in a private courtroom. Mental health providers and translators will be there to support them. Salman could face life in prison if she's convicted. For NPR News, I'm Amy Green in Orlando. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.