DADE CITY — An external hard drive containing hours of surveillance video was physically handed over to defense attorneys Tuesday morning during a hearing regarding the video evidence showing the January shooting death of Chad Oulson inside a Pasco movie theater.
Circuit Court Judge Pat Siracusa, however, delayed a ruling on the release of the video to the media.
Typically, once videos are reviewed by defense attorneys, they become public record and can be requested by media outlets. The State Attorney's Office wanted Siracusa to rule on whether the video is public record once the defense views the video or when excerpts of the video are shown in court on Wednesday during a bond hearing for Curtis Reeves Jr., who is charged with second-degree murder in the shooting.
Siracusa issued a temporary order, which the defense and state attorneys agreed upon, to not allow the media to receive copies of the video before Wednesday's hearing. Siracusa will rule further Wednesday on whether the video will be released at all to the media.
Reeves, a former Tampa Police Department captain, was not present Tuesday.
Chad Oulson's wife, Nicole, who was shot in the left hand by the same bullet that killed her husband, was inside the Robert D. Sumner Judicial Center courtroom with her lawyers.
“We are kind of deferring to the state in the sense that Nicole's main focus here is for the truth to be found out and for justice to be served and more importantly for this guy to remain in jail,” T J Grimaldi, Nicole Oulson's attorney, said after the hearing. “But if the state feels it's appropriate to share (the video) with the media, then we will stand by (that decision).”
Reeves, 71, will have a second bond hearing Wednesday, and prosecutors plan to show a portion of the video in the courtroom.
Siracusa is also expected to rule Wednesday, after the defense has had a chance to fully review the video and give a possible argument, if the video should be shown in view of the entire courtroom.
During Reeves' first bond hearing, the day after the shooting, he was denied bond by Circuit Judge Lynn Tepper.
On Tuesday morning, Reeves' attorneys argued the release of the video would be harmful to their client's chance at a fair trial.
“This particular event takes place in a theater, a dark theater,” defense lawyer Richard Escobar said during the hearing. “With that background, you're going to have a lot of individuals speculating as to what actually happened or didn't happen. That's awfully dangerous to disseminate to the public at this point and time without having the defense review, confront that evidence and maybe even test it with our forensics experts.”
Moments later, assistant state attorney Manny Garcia pulled a white box from under his desk containing a Seagate external hard drive. On that hard drive is a Jan. 13 surveillance video from Cobb Grove 16 Theatre in Wesley Chapel, where the shooting took place.
The shooting can be seen from two angles, according to assistant state attorney Damien Kraebel.
When asked if the video, which does not have sound, was graphic, Kraebel told Siracusa it was not.
Rachel Fugate, an attorney for The Tampa Tribune and several other media outlets in the state, said the release of the video would be beneficial by ending all speculation.
“The video actually ends that speculation because they're the facts. That's what happened,” Fugate said. “There's no spin on it, there's no arguing about it. It's simply what happened. Really, if you want to end that speculation, the best way to do that is to release the video so that people can see for themselves.”
Fugate said the level of attention this shooting and pending case has received will not hinder finding a fair jury if Reeves goes to trial.
“In terms of tainting a jury pool, publicity is not enough. This case is going to receive publicity,” she said. “I don't think releasing the video is going to heighten that or diminish it. If people are going to hear about this case, they're going to hear about this case regardless of the release.”
On Jan. 13, Chad and Nicole Oulson were inside the theater to watch the film “Lone Survivor.” During the previews, Chad Oulson, 43, texted the couple's babysitter to check on their 22-month-old daughter, Alexis, authorities said.
Reeves wanted Oulson to stop texting, which led to an argument, the Pasco County Sheriff's Office. Reeves left the theater to complain to the manager of the multiplex, returned to his seat and a confrontation ensued, the sheriff's office said.
Investigators said popcorn was thrown before Reeves pulled a .380-caliber semiautomatic pistol from his pants pocket and fatally shot Chad Oulson in the chest. The bullet also struck the left hand of Nicole Oulson, 33, before hitting her husband, investigators said.
Reeves remains in the Land O' Lakes Jail.