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Florida movie theater shooting: More details come out in bond hearing

A Florida judge is deciding whether to allow Curtis Reeves, a retired police captain in his early 70s, to post bail and go free until his trial for the shooting death of a father who was texting a baby sitter.

Brendan Fitterer/Tampa Bay Times/AP
Former Tampa Police captain Curtis Reeves, Jr. (c.) sits beside his defense attorneys Richard Escobar (r.) and Dino Michaels as they listen to his taped interview by detectives during his bond reduction hearing before Circuit Judge Pat Siracusa at the Robert D. Sumner Judicial Center in Dade City Friday, Feb. 7, 2014.

Details of how, and why, a retired Tampa, Fla., police captain allegedly shot and killed a fellow moviegoer, Chad Oulson, last month have begun to emerge as a Florida judge ponders whether to allow Curtis Reeves, who is in his early 70s, to post bail and go free until his trial.

Mr. Reeves’s bond hearing stretched into a second day Friday as Circuit Judge Pat Siracusa decided to allow numerous witnesses to testify to Reeves’s character as well as hear new details about how an argument over texting escalated so quickly and tragically.

The shooting shocked a country that has seen gun violence creep into unlikely places amid increasingly permissive gun and self-defense laws. Being a pioneer in self-defense laws, Florida is often seen as a test case of whether more gun carry in public makes society safer or more dangerous.

Reeves has been charged with second-degree murder in the fatal shooting of Mr. Oulson, as well as aggravated assault in regard to Oulson’s wife, who was shot in the hand when she put it up to try to protect her husband. If Reeves is convicted, he will spend a minimum of 25 years in prison.

Both carrying a pistol and texting are against the rules at the Cobb Grove 16 movieplex in Wesley Chapel, Fla., where the shooting occurred, although Florida law bans neither.

Defense attorneys say Oulson committed the first crime by attacking an elderly person, a felony crime in Florida, after the two had argued about Oulson’s use of a cellphone to text as the show was starting.

Reeves says he was struck by popcorn and another object, which is when he pulled out a .308 pistol.

In a taped interview with detectives shortly after the shooting, Reeves said that the dark theater intensified the conflict, "Suddenly, [Oulson] jumps up and turns around and stands between the crack in the seats,” he said. “I'm leaning back in my chair. I got nowhere to go. He kept on hollering. It led me to believe he was going to kick my [expletive].”

He continued, "Suddenly, he's virtually on top of me. I reach in my pocket. I'm stretched out, trying to get away from him. I'm either saying 'no no no' or 'whoa whoa whoa.' Suddenly my head was to the right. He hit me with his fist or something. I assume it was his fist.... I was kind of dazed – had to be from the strike. I felt like I had something in my eye. Still do."

Reeves also described the moment he went for the gun: "I came out of my pocket with it. I didn't mean to do that.... I've counseled cops.... I guess you could say I was scared [expletive]."

But witnesses, including a moviegoer named Mark Turner, testified they never saw Oulson strike the older man.

"From the time the popcorn was thrown to the time that the shot rang out ... three to five seconds," Mr. Turner said on the stand.

Reeves appeared to become increasingly agitated when Oulson refused to acknowledge him as he was texting a baby sitter watching his toddler. But finally, Oulson stood up to confront Reeves.

"[Reeves] had confronted my husband several times, which my husband ignored and ignored and ignored. And it just got to a point where my husband spoke up,” Nicole Oulson told ABC’s “The View” on Thursday.

Ms. Oulson added that she thought Reeves became enraged because her husband didn't defer to him.

"He's been an authority figure all his life," she said. "He's used to telling people what to do, and they say 'how high' when he says 'jump.' He no longer has that control."

An exchange then took place between Reeves and his wife, one witness recounted at the hearing.

"She said that was no cause to shoot anyone,” Alan Hamilton told the court. “And then he leaned back around and stuck his finger out as to scold her and said, 'You shut your [expletive] mouth and don't say another word.’ ”

Defense witnesses called Reeves an “honorable man” who was not quick to anger.

Judge Siracusa ruled Wednesday that a low-lit, grainy surveillance video that captures the shooting will be available to the public in 30 days. It’s not clear how much the video will clarify the series of events, but those who have seen it say it’s not graphic.

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