DADE CITY — The hearing Wednesday was supposed to determine whether to grant bond to Curtis Reeves Jr., the 71-year-old ex-SWAT team leader accused of shooting a man to death after an argument over texting in a Pasco movie theater.
What emerged was a mini-preview of the trial, with the prosecution bringing out a witness who said Reeves shot 43-year-old Chad Oulson after he threw popcorn at him, and another who said Reeves cursed at his wife after she told him he shouldn’t have shot Oulson.
Reeves’ attorneys, meanwhile, laid out their defense: That their client felt threatened by the much younger Oulson. They brought out several character witnesses who said Reeves was a responsible, always-under-control family man who loved to dote on his granddaughter. Reeves cried when his daughter was on the stand.
And it’s not over yet: After 8 1⁄2 hours of testimony from four character witnesses and three witnesses to the shooting, Circuit Judge Pat Siracusa called an end to proceedings for the day. The hearing will continue Friday morning, when prosecutors are scheduled to call two final witnesses and play an audio tape and surveillance video from the theater.
“We gotta get this done,” Circuit Judge Pat Siracusa said. “There’s two families that are waiting for an answer, that are going to be impacted dramatically one way or the other.”
Reeves is charged with second-degree murder and aggravated battery. He pleaded not guilty Wednesday and remains in the Land O’ Lakes Jail.
During Wednesday’s hearing, prosecutors outlined what they said happened during the Jan. 13 shooting inside Cobb Grove 16 Theatre.
Assistant State Attorney Manny Garcia said Reeves confronted Oulson, who was texting during the previews of the movie “Lone Survivor.” The two argued and Reeves angrily left the theater, grunting and kicking the back of chairs, Garcia said.
When Oulson returned, Garcia said, the two argued again, and when popcorn was thrown, Reeves reached into his pocket, pulled out a .38 caliber handgun and shot Oulson in the chest.
The bullet went through the left hand of Oulson’s wife, Nicole, who put her hand up to her husband’s chest just as the single shot was fired.
Mark Turner, a retired U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. and counter terrorism specialist, sat in the same row as Reeves that day, about five seats away. He said he saw Oulson throw a small bag of popcorn at Reeves and moments later, Reeves fired a shot into Oulson’s chest.
“Once he was hit, he took a step as if to turn towards his wife and he said, ‘I can’t believe this’ and at that point, he began to fall backwards and the gentleman who was sitting next to him caught him and laid him down in the aisle,” Turner said. “And I believe those were the last words he spoke.”
Turner said after the shot was fired, Reeves said, “Throw popcorn in my face.”
Charles Cummings was sitting in the same row, Row B, as the Oulsons, three or four seats away from the couple. He said after the popcorn was thrown, “A very, very short time after that, there was a bright flash and a gun went off.’’
Nicole Oulson watched the proceedings from the front row behind the table of three assistant state attorneys Wednesday. Her left hand, which was struck by the bullet that killed her husband, no longer features the cast that had been there previously. She was flanked by her lawyers, TJ Grimaldi and Stephen Leal.
Cpl. Alan Hamilton of the Sumter County Sheriff’s Office, who was off duty and in the theater for the movie, said that after the shooting he immediately grabbed the gun from Reeves’ left knee, took the magazine out and cleared the chamber.
During that time, Hamilton said he heard Oulson “gurgling.”
“I can hear the distinctive sound I’ve heard over my career, a gurgling sound,” said Hamilton, who told the court he and his wife walked into the theater at the same time the Oulsons did. “I leaned backwards and said, ‘That’s not good.’”
Hamilton, who restrained Reeves at his seat and remained with him, said Reeves’ wife, Vivian, scolded her husband and said he should not have shot Oulson, according to Hamilton.
Hamilton said Reeves chastised his wife and said, “You shut your (expletive) mouth and don’t say another word.”
Vivian Reeves then got up and moved to another seat, Hamilton said.
Reeves, a former Tampa police captain, was escorted into the courtroom dressed in a red sweater vest, white button up shirt and khaki pants.
Prosecutors are planning to play a security video during the hearing that was taken inside the theater during the bond hearing. Over defense objections, Siracusa has ruled he will allow the video to be played in open court.
“Withholding this video from public’s view, it only fuels speculation about what’s in it,” Siracusa told the defense team of Richard Escobar and Dino Michaels.
Defense attorneys brought in several character witnesses who described Reeves as a dedicated family man well in control of his emotions.
Thomas Depolis, a former law enforcement officer who spent 32 years with the Tampa Police Department and Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office, testified Reeves was well trained to handle any situation.
“He was as dedicated a family man as he was a law enforcement officer, they both were equally important to him,” Depolis said. “He’s what people describe as a good man.”
Margaret Scalise said she and her husband during the last five years would regularly meet Reeves and his wife for lunch at the Wesley Chapel Sonny’s and then go to a matinee at Cobb Grove 16 Theatre. Usually when the movie ended, the couple would head to a nearby Dairy Queen.
When asked by Escobar if she ever saw Reeves get upset about anyone texting in the theater, she said she had not.
“We always had a great time,” Scalise said. “It was always light hearted and fun.”