Bail hearing resumes for man accused of killing texting father in Fla. theater

Cobb Grove 16 Theater

The Cobb Grove 16 Theater in Wesley Chapel, Florida reopened Jan. 15, 2014, two days after a fatal shooting. (Photo: CNN)

WESLEY CHAPEL, Fla. — Will Curtis Reeves go home? Or will he go back to jail?

The 71-year-old man could learn his fate Friday, some 3½ weeks after he allegedly shot a man dead inside a Florida movie theater. He has been charged with second-degree murder.

Since then, the retired Tampa police officer has been in custody. On Wednesday, lawyers for Reeves and the prosecution presented witnesses as Judge Pat Siracusa considered whether to give him the opportunity to post bail ahead of his trial.

That hearing in Dade City dragged into the night, when the judge decided to resume it beginning at 10 a.m. Friday. When it restarts, prosecutors are expected to put more witnesses on the stand, and surveillance video of what happened inside the theater January 13 will be shown.

Once that’s done, Siracusa could decide the amount of bail, if any, to set. If Reeves or his family are able to post bond, he would theoretically go back to the Brooksville, Florida, home he shares with his wife, their daughter and his 2-year-old granddaughter.

If it’s anything like Wednesday, Friday’s hearing will be full of drama, emotion and strong arguments on both sides — with Reeves’ lawyers contending he’d felt threatened by a much larger, younger man and prosecutors painting him as a hot-head who overreacted to a father’s texting during movie previews by taking out his gun in a crowded movie theater and firing.

Charles Cummings recalled Wednesday how he had gone to the Grove 16 theater in the Tampa suburb of Wesley Chapel early that January afternoon to take in “Lone Survivor” with his son. A few seats down from him sat Chad Oulson; Reeves sat in the row in front of them.

During the previews, the 68-year-old Cummings testified that he heard Reeves and Oulson talking, and at one point, the latter said, “I’m just texting my 2-year-old daughter.”

Soon after that, a “very agitated” Reeves left the theater then returned a few minutes later and again addressed Oulson.

Mark Douglas Turner — who spent 27 years in the Air Force, including time as a clandestine officer who worked in China — watched this exchange a few seats down from Reeves. He testified Wednesday that he heard a relatively calm Oulson saying, “Do you mind, I’ve got a voice mail from my daughter’s babysitter? Do you mind I check to see if my daughter’s alright?”

The atmosphere changed considerably soon after that. While witnesses did not recount exactly what Reeves said, Cummings said that, whatever it was, “I felt Oulson had enough.”

Alan Hamilton, a corporal with the Sumter County sheriff’s office who was in the theater with his wife, said he heard Oulson saying, at one point, “I am trying to text my f**king daughter, if you don’t mind” — using graphic language Reeves’ lawyer said suggested Oulson was angry and threatening.

Popcorn flew in Reeves’ direction soon thereafter.

“And almost immediately,” recalled Turner, who said Oulson threw the bag, “the gun comes out and there (was a shot) fired.”

A lone bullet, according to several witnesses, struck the 43-year-old Navy veteran, who worked at a local powersports store, in the chest.

Oulson then stumbled and said, “I can’t believe he shot me,” before falling on Cummings’ son, the witness recalled.

A nurse who also happened to be in theater then testified — as Oulson’s widow, Nicole, wiped away tears — about his unsuccessful efforts to save Oulson’s life.

According to Turner, Reeves himself said, “Throw popcorn in my face.”

Hamilton that he acted quickly to take the gun from Reeves — who was sitting, as he’d been during the shooting — and subdue him right after the shooting.

Before more authorities arrived, Reeves’ wife told her husband “that was no cause to shoot anyone,” according to Hamilton, the law enforcement officer who was then off-duty.

Reeves responded by pointing his finger at her and saying, according to Hamilton, “You shut your f**king mouth and don’t say another word.”

The off-duty corporal said that at one point, Reeves pushed back his glasses and said out loud, “Holy f**k, what have I done?”

Defense attorney Richard Escobar challenged each of the prosecution witnesses. For some, he said their recollections may be cloudy due to witnesses’ vantage points, eyesight or the theater’s dim lighting. Escobar also sought to portray Oulson as imposing and threatening compared to Reeves.

The defense also called individuals Wednesday as character witnesses for Reeves — the most powerful of whom was his daughter, Jennifer Shaw.

In addition to discussing her father’s financial holdings — including a house valued at $186,000 as well as $22,000 in bank accounts — Shaw spoke of how her father had always been involved and supportive. That includes helping with her young daughter and when she moved in with her parents after splitting from her husband.

Shaw said she didn’t recall her father — who became visibly emotional with his daughter on the stand — getting angry with strangers, said his temperament hasn’t changed in recent years and insisted that he doesn’t pose a danger to the community.

And after being asked whether she had any doubt her father would show up for court if he received bail, Shaw answered unequivocally: “No doubt at all.”

Shaw said she’d long “assumed” that her father, a Navy veteran and retired police officer with a concealed weapons permit, carried a gun with him at all times. But should he come to the family’s Brooksville home, there would be no guns around..

Her own brother (who is a Tampa police officer) took the guns — even her own personal firearm — out of the home one day after the movie theater shooting, Shaw testified. And there’s no chance Curtis Reeves will handle any of those guns, Shaw insisted.

“He would not get his hands on the firearms for his own integrity and my brother’s integrity,” she testified.

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