PASCO COUNTY, Fla. — Eight years ago at the Grove Theater in Wesley Chapel, an argument over texting before a movie ended with Chad Oulson dead and his wife injured after a shooting. The man arrested for the shooting was a retired Tampa Police officer named Curtis Reeves, now 79.
After years of delays, pre-trial hearings, and the COVID-19 pandemic, the trial began on Monday with jury selection. ABC Action News legal analyst Jeffrey Swartz said prosecutors should have worked harder to get this trial underway much sooner.
“They allowed themselves, basically, to be pushed around and accommodated (defense attorney) Richard Escobar early on," Swartz said. "I think the two judges who handled this up to that point also did the same."
Since the shooting, a lot of information has been revealed about the entire incident. According to Reeves, he and his wife were sitting just behind the Oulson. Reeves said he asked Oulson to stop texting.
“My voice was low I said sir can I get you to put your cell phone away. The response was F-off,” Reeves said in court.
Reeves then left the theater and complained about the texting to a theater manager. When he returned, the disagreement escalated.
Oulson’s widow, Nicole, testified that things got out of control quickly.
“I thought it was so silly that it got to this point where these two men are going to start bickering and causing the attention of other patrons,” she said.
Surveillance video may be key in what a jury ultimately decides. The defense said it shows Oulson throwing his cell phone at Reeves. And then, it more clearly shows Oulson grab Reeve’s popcorn and toss it back at him. Reeves said in court he felt threatened.
“And he was getting ready to punch me," Reeves said. "I perceived that at some point that’s when the pistol came out.”
“And what did you do next?" Reeves was asked.
“I shot him,” Reeves said.
That testimony came during a two-week hearing in 2017 where the judge eventually decided that this was not a case of stand your ground.
“You can see that Mr. Reeves, at the time, gets hit with the popcorn reaching into his pocket to get the gun. He pulls it out at that point. He claims that Oulson is leaning over. There doesn’t appear to be any evidence to that extent,” said Swartz.
Reeves was in jail for six months after his arrest, but he has been out on bail ever since.
The case generated national attention and will now turn the spotlight on Florida and its controversial "stand your ground" and self-defense laws again.
But Swartz said the simple solution would have been for Curtis Reeves to move away from Oulson in what was a nearly empty theater.
"There was a very simple solution for Mr. Reeves and his wife and his son and his daughter-in-law. Just pick up and move. The theater was generally empty. I mean, they had the whole theater to themselves. Move to the other side, move to the middle, you know, move a couple of rows up, whatever it takes to get out of line of that phone, and that solved the problem," said Swartz. “Mr. Reeves created a confrontation that did not need to happen."