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What lawyers on both sides of the Curtis Reeves movie theater shooting trial are saying

Jury selection begins in Curtis Reeves trial
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Posted at 1:29 AM, Feb 07, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-07 17:54:23-05

TAMPA, Fla. — Chad Oulson walked into a Wesley Chapel movie theater on January 13, 2014, and never walked out. More than eight years later, the man who claims he shot Oulson in self-defense will be tried for second-degree murder and aggravated battery with a deadly weapon.

The week before the trial started, lawyers for both sides sat down with ABC Action News reporter Michael Paluska to talk about the case.

The saga and heartbreak started during a matinee of the movie "Lone Survivor." Chad Oulson, 43, and his wife Nicole Oulson walked into theater No. 10 and took their seats at the Cobb Grove 16 Movie Theater and Cinebistro in Wesley Chapel.

The man sitting behind them, retired Tampa police captain Curtis Reeves, 71 at the time, would end up fatally shooting Oulson during the previews.

Pasco County detectives said it all started because Oulson was on his phone texting. Then, investigators say, Reeves, sitting in the back row, leaned forward and told Oulson to turn it off.

In 2014, Oulson told Good Morning America, "It was a couple of words. No threats. No harm. No, nothing," Oulson said. "In the blink of an eye, 30 seconds, it just shattered my world."

The interaction was recounted again by Nicole during a "stand your ground" hearing in 2017. She testified Reeves was aggressive from the start.

"It wasn't a friendly ask, please, or can you? Do you mind? It was just turn your phone off or put that phone away very demanding and very abrupt," she testified.

For more context on what happened, the judge in that "stand your ground" hearing visited the Cobb theater where the shooting occurred in January 2014.

The media was allowed to observe and take notes during the visit.

ABC Action News reporter Erik Waxler was allowed inside the theater to observe.

"In my opinion, it's a slam dunk case, open and shut," TJ Grimaldi, Nicole's attorney, told Paluska. "Curtis Reeves should have de-escalated the situation. But instead, all he did was make things worse, and continue to make things worse, even after leaving the theater and coming back when it was basically done and decided to shoot someone over popcorn."

Grimaldi is Nicole's attorney. He is not trying the case, that is up to the State Prosecutor, but he has represented Nicole since the shooting. He told Paluska her account of that day is "crystal clear" and hasn't changed in eight years. Every day Grimaldi says she lives with emotional and physical pain. The same bullet that killed her husband ripped through her hand before entering Chad's chest, killing him.

"Her wedding ring is actually cut off, and they had to surgically repair the finger, which is never going to be right; she still cannot make a fist," Grimaldi said.

Nicole and Chad's daughter was 2-years-old at the time. Grimaldi said as she gets older, she asks more and more questions about her father.

"Where's dad? Why did dad die? Why did someone have to kill him? Those are difficult questions for any parent to answer," Grimaldi said.

"When those jurors look at Curtis Reeves, and they see a 79-year-old man, will he have some sympathy factor due to his age?" Paluska asked.

"I think it's going to be hard not to; I think it's going to depend on the juror, right? Each individual jury is going to have a different opinion," Grimaldi said. "But, they also could not like it because they could suggest that he's just an ornery old man that couldn't handle getting old and couldn't handle not being a cop anymore. And so, as a result, he took the law into his own hands."

Theater surveillance footage shows Oulson grabbing a bag of popcorn and throwing it at Reeves before the fatal shot was fired. Defense attorney Richard Escobar claims it was all in self-defense.

"Mr. Reeves had to shoot. Mr. Oulson, unfortunately, because Mr. Oulson attacked him in the theater," Escobar said. "He was in a very vulnerable position…and as we all know, your hands can be deadly weapons. Beyond the hands in this particular case, a phone had been thrown at Mr. Reeves and hit him in the head. And so he knew that this individual was so out of control that the next punch could be deadly for him."

Escobar said Reeves, a former Tampa police captain was an expert in the use of force.

"Did Mr. Reeves ever have to pull his gun during his time in law enforcement?" Paluska asked.

"No. He never had to pull his gun and shoot at anyone during his tenure there with the Tampa Police Department as well as his tenure with Busch Gardens, which tells you that he is not a trigger-happy type of individual," Escobar responded.

"How does someone who works in law enforcement, which is an extremely dangerous job, never pull their weapon, but then pull it in a theater when apparently popcorn is thrown his way and maybe possibly some other items?" Paluska continued.

"Well, I think that's the real problem is that initially the media and I'm not saying this in a derogatory sense, but the media, you know, thought that this was because popcorn was thrown at him or because, you know, someone was using a telephone in the theater, and it's so far from it, forensically, our experts are going to be able to say that the decision to shoot in this particular case came way before the popcorn. And that's forensically, solid. There's absolutely no wiggle room there. The stippling on Mr. Oulson's hand would clearly indicate that Mr. Oulson was quite close."

Stippling refers to gunshot residue.

Reeves testified during his" stand-your-ground" hearing he acted in self-defense.

"My voice was low; I said, 'sir, can I get you to put your cell phone away?' The response was 'f-off or get the f- out of my face,'" Reeves said.

When he didn't, Reeves threatened to complain to management.

Reeves said Oulson replied by saying, "I don't give the f*** what you do."

When Reeves returned from the lobby, he said he was trying to be nice.

"As a goodwill gesture, I told him that I…I didn't see his phone at that time. So I said, 'I see you are not on your phone, sorry I involved theater management,'" Reeves said.

But he said that set Oulson off.

He said Oulson quickly stood up, and there was a barrage of profanity.

"A lot of sentences with the f-word," said Reeves.

He said Oulson threw his cell phone at him, hitting the then 71-year-old in the head.

Circuit Judge Susan Barthle ruled Reeves did not meet the criteria to "stand his ground" during the encounter with Oulson and was denied immunity.

The trial is scheduled for the entire month of February.