DADE CITY (FOX 13) - A retired police captain will indeed go to trial for shooting and killing another man during an argument over texting in a movie theater. A judge today rejected Curtis Reeves' 'stand your ground' defense after a two-week hearing, questioning his testimony and ruling he was not the "frail" old man he claimed to be.
"The physical evidence contradicts the defendant's version of events," Judge Susan Barthle's ruling states.
It was back in January of 2014 when Reeves, then 71 years old, shot 43-year-old Chad Oulson before a matinee of 'Lone Survivor' at a Wesley Chapel movie theater. Reeves claims Oulson threw popcorn at him, then hit him in the head with a cell phone.
"I realized I was in a life-or-death struggle. He was no longer a loudmouth; he was a definite threat," Reeves testified last week. "He was reaching for me...He was getting ready to punch me. I perceived that. That's when the pistol came out...At that point, it was his life or mine."
But prosecutors dispute that Oulson ever hit Reeves with the phone, and Oulson's wife said the "rude" retiree had actually escalated the disagreement. Other witnesses claimed to hear Reeves mutter something like, "Throw popcorn at me, will you?" before pulling the trigger.
Florida's 'stand your ground' law allows citizens to use lethal force if they feel they are in imminent danger of death or significant harm. Judge Barthle heard both sides' version during a two-week mini-trial hearing - even sitting in Reeves' theater seat herself - to determine if that law applied in this case. If so, Reeves would have been immune from prosecution.
It took a week for her to issue a ruling, but today, she decided 'stand your ground' did not apply. Specifically, she did not believe much of what Reeves had to say, stating his claims were "significantly at odds with the physical evidence and other witness testimony."
"Why did the defendant say he was hit in the left eye, to the point of being dazed, when the video images and basic physics indicate that he did not get hit in the left eye with anything? The logical conclusion is that he was trying to justify his actions after the fact," she wrote.
"As he was trained extensively in handling firearms and dealing with conflict situations, he was far better prepared than the average person to deal with situations such as this one," Barthle's ruling continued. "Furthermore, the defendant did not appear to be frail by any means; on the contrary he is quite a large and robust man. He also appeared quite self-assured when he was testifying, and certainly did not appear to be a man who was afraid of anyone."
The ruling clears the way for Reeves - who has been on house arrest since his 2014 release from jail - to face a jury trial on a second-degree murder charge. It was not immediately clear when the trial might actually start, especially now that Reeves' attorney said he plans to file an appeal.
"We respect the court. We respect the court's order," Dino Michaels said, adding, "I can tell you that there will be an appeal. As to how soon it will be filed, the answer is as fast as humanly possible."
An attorney for Oulson's widow Nicole, meanwhile, welcomed judge's the ruling.
"Nicole and I are thrilled that justice was served this morning," T.J. Grimaldi said. "We want to thank the prosecutors for their hard work and can't wait until a jury determines that he's actually guilty for his actions."