Noor Salman, the widow of Pulse nightclub gunman Omar Mateen, was found not guilty Friday in the only trial to stem from the deadly June 2016 shooting rampage.
Salman, 31, was accused of helping her husband plan his terror assault on the Orlando, Florida, nightclub and of falsely denying her role afterward.
The government equated Mateen's actions with supporting terrorism, because he repeatedly pledged allegiance to ISIS before and during the attack, which left 49 people dead and 53 injured. For that reason, Salman was charged with aiding him in providing material support to a terror group.
She was also charged with obstruction of justice, accused of misleading police and FBI agents by making contradictory statements about whether she knew what he was planning.
Noor Salman, widow of Pulse nightclub gunman, found not guilty on all countsMarch 30, 201801:28
But after a two-week trial in U.S. District Court in Orlando, a jury acquitted her on both counts. Outside the courthouse, relatives and friends said they were elated.
"The family really wants to first say that we're very sorry for the family members and friends of the 49 victims of the Pulse nightclub shooting and also the survivors of that horrible attack," said Susan Clary, a spokesman for Salman's family.
"Noor can go home now to her son, Zack, resume her life and try to pick up the pieces."
Salman has been in jail since she was arrested in January 2017. "I don't know how she's going to make up for the last two years," said her uncle Al Salman.
Fritz Scheller, one of her defense lawyers, praised victims of the shooting who attended the trial.
"They came searching for the truth," he said. "Throughout the trial they showed a sense of dignity and compassion and understanding. Even after the verdict, we embraced. I just think they're extraordinary people and they've been through a lot."
During deliberations, jurors asked the judge to define "encouragement" and "support" for another's crime. In response, Judge Paul Byron said that to find that she aided and abetted her husband, the jury would have to conclude "that she participated in it as something that she wished to bring about, and that she sought by her actions to make it succeed."
The verdict suggests that jurors did not reach that conclusion.
Prosecutors said she knew that her husband was heavily armed when he left the house in a rented van the night of the shooting and, as she later told the FBI, "that he was going to do something bad."
But her lawyers said that statement was made under duress by a physically abused woman who had a low IQ and was easily intimidated. She was tired after a long interrogation by the FBI and signed a confession because she feared that she would lose custody of her young son, the defense said.
Widow of Pulse nightclub shooter not guilty on all countsMarch 30, 201804:11
Prosecutors said she and Mateen scouted locations for possible attacks and went on an 11-day spending spree before the shooting, buying guns, ammunition, jewelry, and electronics, to equip him and give her financial security after his death.
During a pretrial hearing, investigators said that she initially told the FBI that she had no idea what her husband was planning. But later, they testified, Salman said that the week before the shooting, she and her husband were driving past the Pulse nightclub when he asked, "How upset are people going to be when it gets attacked?"
In a statement, Barbara Poma, owner of the nightclub and founder of a charity to aid the victims, urged everyone to accept the jury's decision and keep in mind that Omar Mateen was the killer. "Those of us directly affected by this tragedy must find peace in our hearts and remember that he was the one who pulled the trigger that night," she said. "He was the perpetrator, and he should not have one more minute of power over our lives."
The trial produced several revelations about the shooting. Prosecutors said Mateen originally intended to attack Disney World, using a gun concealed in a baby stroller, but changed his mind after seeing police at the entertainment complex.
Government witnesses, using data from Mateen's cell phone, said he looked up information about Orlando nightclubs and went back and forth between two of them before setting on Pulse as his target.
She did not take the stand to testify during the trial. If she had been convicted, Salman could have faced a maximum sentence of life in prison.