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Wednesday, May 23, 2018
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Tom Jackson Columns

Jackson: Analyzing theater shooting video that shouldn't have been seen

So there it is, laid out in grainy black and white with the feel of a 1940s film noir crime movie, the moments surrounding the bizarre shooting death of Chad Oulson. Now, having scrutinized the video like Seattle Seahawks analyzing Peyton Manning's hand gestures, the question that dominates is this:

Where is Pat Siracusa, the Pinellas-Pasco circuit court judge presiding over the case, going to find enough people who haven't been privy to, or reached conclusions about, the intimate details of the incident sufficient to constitute a proper jury pool? Yeah, both counsels agreed to release the video to the media after a two-day bond hearing, but by then the horse wasn't just out of the barn, it was in the next county. We'd already seen it.

It's not enough that he has neither urged witnesses to keep their stories to themselves, or instituted an outright gag order, which has led to the heartrending spectacle of the widow providing national TV audiences with an account that is desperately abbreviated and, in its abbreviation, highly misleading.

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Now there's the herky-jerky video that lays out across about a dozen minutes the senselessly escalating nature of the dispute between Oulson and the shooter, former Tampa policeman Curtis Reeves. Well, half of it anyway. Vivian and Curtis Reeves are squeezed into the lower right-hand corner of the screen, cutting off the row in front where Nicole and Chad Oulson were expecting to spend a rare afternoon out. But even with this truncated view, it's possible to draw an instant analysis: There were no saints here.

Twice, about a minute apart, Reeves leans forward to lodge what we've come to learn were complaints about Oulson's text messaging. After the second, Reeves departs, returning about three minutes later. There's renewed interaction.

Now we can see activity from the Oulsons' direction. Reviewed in slow-motion, something flashes between the rows, said by the defense to be Chad's offending mobile, and glances off Reeves' arm or chest. About 13 seconds later, with Vivian Reeves leaning forward for some unexplained reason, an arm stretches from beyond the camera's range, snatches Curtis Reeves' small box of popcorn out of its armrest holder and throws it – box and all – at Reeves' head.

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Reeves instantly responds with what can only be described as disproportional force. He rises slightly, his right hand, grasping a pistol, leaves the screen. We cannot see the muzzle flash, but as Reeves slumps back into his seat, a snowstorm of dust particles loosed by the reverberation drifts across the picture.

It's endlessly fascinating stuff sure to feed the public's voracious appetite for information about how this horrible thing came to pass. But, with all due respect to the media attorneys assembled last week in Siracusa's courtroom eager to argue on behalf of the public's right to know and to see everything the prosecution and defense knew and would see, I'm not at all sure potential jurors — and at this point all Floridians are potential jurors — had that right.

Much is at stake here. The rights of the accused. The rights of a grieving family to see justice done. The rights of the people to have the laws faithfully carried out. There's not much in my mind that trumps the First Amendment, but making super certain you get all the procedural stuff wrapped up tight in a murder case ranks right up there.

We know what the defense is going to argue. Richard Escobar popped it into a tidy nutshell late Friday near the end of Reeves' bond hearing. Chad Oulson was “out of control,” and his client was hemmed in by a 6-foot wall at his back. Now, through the modern miracle of the World Wide Web and Siracusa's fascinating liberality, everyone will have endless opportunities to weigh the merits of Escobar's claims.

Forward and back. Back and forward. Regular speed, super slo-mo and stop-action. It's the Zapruder film all over, except we know who the shooter is. I don't know if this is a misstep, and if it is whether it's a Lance Ito-worthy gaffe.

We'll have a better idea when the court attempts to seat a jury, wherever that courthouse may be. In the meantime, let's just say I've got a bad feeling about this.

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