Florida Judge Denies ‘Stand Your Ground’ Defense in Movie Theater Shooting
A retired Tampa police captain who shot and killed a man in a movie theater will face a second-degree murder charge after a judge ruled that Florida’s controversial “stand your ground” law does not apply in this case.
After two weeks of pretrial testimony, Judge Susan Barthle cast doubt on Curtis Reeves’ assertions that he was acting in self-defense when he drew and fired his gun.
“Because the defendant’s testimony was significantly at odds with the physical evidence and other witness testimony, this court has considerable doubts about his credibility, and is not willing to come to the conclusion that these circumstances are those envisioned by the Legislature when the ‘stand your ground’ law was enacted,” Barthle ruled.
A trial date has not been set, CNN affiliate WFTS in Tampa reported.
The case dates to January 2014 when Reeves, then 71, confronted a man in a suburban Tampa movie theater about texting during the previews before a showing of “Lone Survivor.” The two argued, and then Reeves walked out of the theater to complain to an employee. When Reeves returned, he and the man, Chad Oulson, began arguing again.
Oulson threw a bag of popcorn at Reeves, according to a criminal complaint, and Reeves then took out his handgun and fired at Oulson, killing him.
Defense attorneys asked the judge to dismiss the murder charge under the “stand your ground” law that allows residents to use deadly force when they fear death or great bodily harm.
The case represents another look at Florida’s “stand your ground” law, which most famously surfaced in George Zimmerman’s 2013 trial in the killing of Trayvon Martin. Zimmerman’s defense did not invoke the statute, but the law was included in instructions to the jury that acquitted him.
Then-US Attorney General Eric Holder slammed stand your ground laws in a speech shortly after that verdict.
“By allowing — and perhaps encouraging — violent situations to escalate in public, such laws undermine public safety,” Holder said.
‘Oh shoot, that was stupid’
Reeves and his attorneys have argued that Oulson threw a cell phone at Reeves’ head and was aggressively leaning over a chair toward him at the time of the shooting. On the stand, Reeves testified he “perceived” that Oulson was getting ready to punch him, according to WFTS.
“A 6-foot-4 individual standing, trying to come over that chair is terrifying,” defense attorney Richard Escobar said at the hearing, WFTS reports.
However, prosecutors said popcorn did not constitute a weapon, and they said witnesses did not see Oulson throw his phone, according to the TV station.
Reeves’ attorneys argued that video of the interaction showed Oulson throwing a phone, but the judge ruled that what they cited as a phone “was simply a reflection from the defendant’s shoes.”
In addition, prosecutors played audio of Reeves talking to detectives shortly after the shooting.
“As soon as I pulled the trigger I said, ‘Oh shoot, that was stupid.’ If I had to do it over again, it would have never happened,” he said. “If I had to do it over again, it would never have happened. I wouldn’t have moved. But you don’t get do-overs.”