A retired police officer who gunned down a married father who threw popcorn at him will use Florida’s “stand your ground” law as his defense when he goes on trial for murder.
The lawyer for Curtis Reeves confirmed that the retired Tampa police captain would use the controversial law to claim self-defense in the fatal Jan. 13, 2014, shooting, reported the Tampa Bay Times.
The 73-year-old Reeves was charged with second-degree murder after he shot 43-year-old Chad Oulson to death because he refused to stop sending a text message to his 2-year-old daughter’s day care provider.
The former police officer fatally shot Oulson once in the chest, and the man’s wife, Nicole, who was sitting next to him during the matinee showing of “Lone Survivor,” was grazed by a bullet — which prompted an additional charge of aggravated battery.
“Just to think that in the blink of an eye, my whole world just got shattered into a million pieces, and now I’m left trying to pick them all up and putting them back together,” Nicole Oulson said after her husband’s slaying.
Reeves’ attorney has maintained all along that video recorded inside the Wesley Chapel movie theater will show that Oulson attacked the older man first — causing Reeves to fear for his life.
Defendants must show they had a “reasonable belief” that they were threatened before using force — even if no such threat actually existed.
Reeves told investigators that he feared for his safety when he was struck in the face with an object that was later determined was popcorn, but his defense attorney suggested may have been a more dangerous object.
Pasco County Sheriff Chris Nocco, who is investigating the fatal shooting, dismissed that claim, saying there was no evidence of another object – and besides, he said, Reeves could have just found another seat.
“It was an empty movie theatre,” Nocco said. “If he was scared, why didn’t he move seats?”
The sheriff said all the detectives who were at the scene agreed that the state’s controversial self-defense law did not apply in this case.
“From our investigation, it seems simply that the agitation of someone using their cell phone to text has caused this,” Nocco said. “The suspect was sitting there, they had an argument about texting, the victim turned around, threw something, a shot is fired and the next thing you know a man is dead.”
However, a 2012 Tampa Bay Times analysis of the “stand your ground” law found that nearly 70 percent of defendants who claimed self-defense under the law promoted by the National Rifle Association had successfully avoid prosecution.
The law, which was passed in 2005, allows gun owners to use deadly force when they fear death or great bodily harm — even when retreat is possible.
A judge may find shooters “immune from criminal prosecution and civil action” if the court determines a shooting has met the law’s criteria.
A five-day hearing has been scheduled for Jan. 25, and Reeves’ attorney, Richard Escobar, said he was confident they had “a pretty solid stand your ground case.”
One of the witnesses scheduled to testify during the hearing is a crime scene investigator who wrote a book about the 2012 killing of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black teenager who was gunned down by volunteer neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman.
Zimmerman was acquitted of Martin’s murder in July 2013.
Watch this news report that includes video of the fatal shooting: