Closing Arguments Conclude in Stand Your Ground Hearing

(CN) – Attorneys in the “Stand Your Ground” hearing of Curtis Reeves on Friday made their closing arguments to the Florida circuit court judge who will decide whether the retired police officer will face second-degree murder charges for the 2014 killing of a fellow movie theater patron or walk free.

Through nine days of testimony, prosecutors have argued that Reeves, a retired police captain, murdered Chad Oulson during an argument over texting in a Wesley Chapel, Fla. movie theater in January 2014.

The defense responded by painting Oulson as the aggressor, saying he crossed the line of civility by tossing popcorn and his cellphone at Reeves while menacing the older man before the fatal shot was fired.

Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Susan Barthle is expected to rule by March 10 in the three-year-old case.

The altercation started after Reeves, who was 71 at the time, asked Oulson, 43, to stop texting during the movie previews, because the light distracted him.

“Was there a reason [Reeves] leaned forward?” Reeves’ attorney Richard Escobar asked the judge. “Was it common courtesy to others in the theater? That very act tells you a great deal about who this gentlemen right here is.”

“The response?” Escobar continued. “The f-word starts flying … Is that really where we’re at? That we can’t lean forward and ask a fellow patron, ‘can you turn off your cell phone?’ Is that where we are at in America?”

When Oulson refused to put away his phone, Reeves went to fetch a manager.

“He doesn’t take that matter into his own hands,” Escobar said of Reeves. “He’s not a police officer anymore.”

On Reeves’ return – without the manager — the argument resumed.

The defense maintains Oulson stood up and threw his iPhone – the weight of a cue ball, Escobar noted — striking Reeves above the eye.

Then, Oulson started to come over into Reeves’ seat, the retiree testified earlier this week. At that point, Reeves said, he took out his pistol and shot the younger man in the chest.

“A simple bruise may take weeks to heal, a simple cut can bleed [a long time] and a simple fall can result in a broken hip, and possibly even death from complications,” Escobar said, noting simple battery on an elderly person in Florida is a felony.

The Stand Your Ground law allows use of force to prevent a “forcible felony,” in addition to great bodily harm or death.

“You have to sit in his shoes as a 71-year-old … to determine if his perception was reasonable for him to fire the fatal shot,” Escobar said. “You have to sit in his shoes, his knowledge, and try as best you can to perceive what Curtis Reeves was perceiving on that day.”

Escobar also took issue with the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office’s investigation of the shooting, claiming police mishandled evidence, including surveillance video from the theater, and allowing witnesses to talk to each other before gathering statements.

“The government’s case was rampant with contamination,” Escobar said, while picking apart nearly every state witness in his four-hour closing statement.

In his closing arguments, state attorney Glenn Martin also questioned where the line of civility begins and ends.

“Mr. Reeves took it upon himself, the very first time, to make contact with Mr. Oulson,” Martin said, later adding Reeves should have known Oulson did not want the retiree to “bother him.”

Then, after alerting the manager, Martin argued Reeves should not have made another comment.

“It re-kindled the flames of hostility between the two,” he said.

Martin also took issue with the claim Oulson hit Reeves with his cell phone.

“Are you going to take that cell phone that is precious to you, that you always walk around with, that means something to you and toss it toward another individual, that you do not know, that is hostile toward you?” Martin asked. “Would you? No.”

Even if Oulson hit Reeves with his cell phone, Martin argued there is still a 12-second delay between that action and Reeves firing his gun.

Martin concluded by attacking Reeves’ credibility.

“[Reeves] wants to embellish the conduct of Mr. Oulson and minimize his conduct,” Martin said, “because he knew just being hit by popcorn  — I can’t believe I’m going to say this — just wouldn’t fly.”

He continued, “[Reeves] knows he shot him because it was disrespectful to be hit in the head with popcorn.  Retaliation — the action of harming someone because they harmed oneself. What was harmed? His ego.”

The Reeves’ case adds to the fierce debate over Florida’s stand your ground law.

In 2012, George Zimmerman made national news when he successfully argued his shooting death of unarmed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin was justified by the law. Several controversial cases followed. A 2012 study by the Tampa Bay Times found the law had been invoked more than 200 times since its inception and allowed 70 percent of those accused to walk free. Gang members and drug dealers were among those who never faced murder charges, the study said.

One Florida politician wants to strengthen the “stand your ground” law. Earlier this year, Sen. Rob Bradley filed SB 128, which would shift the burden of proof to the prosecutor.

The proposed law will head to the Senate floor after the Florida Legislature convenes March 7.

Read other coverage of the case here and here.

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