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“Popcorn” Shooting Trial Set For March

“Popcorn” Shooting Trial Set For March

VIDEO: Witness claims defendant Reeves shouted “SHUT UP!”

A trial date has finally been set for Curtis Reeves, the Florida retired police officer charged with murder in the shooting death last January of Chad Oulson over a dispute in a movie theater in which Oulson threw popcorn at Reeves.

Trial Judge Pat Siracusa, overseeing the case, set a three week window for the trial, running from March 2 through March 30.

We previously covered this case here at Legal Insurrection,  Florida Theater Shooting Induces Another Round of “Stand Your Ground” Mania; and over at the Law of Self Defense blog here, Legally-Sound Self-Defense Strategy Rule #1: KEEP OUT OF TROUBLE IN 1st PLACE.

Defense Informs Court it Intends to Depose ~100 Witnesses

Why such a long delay–14 months from the date of the shooting!–for the start of the trial? The answer seems to be the sheer volume of discovery and pre-trial preparation undertaken, which in turn is a function of how crowded the theater was with movie goers (now, of course, witnesses.)

A court document (embedded at the bottom of this post) filed last week by defense attorneys Richard Escobar and Dino Michaels indicates that they intend to depose as many as 100 witnesses. In the nine months since the shooting they have deposed only 19 of these, leaving 81 to be completed in the less than six months remaining before the trial.

The defense also complains that several State witnesses, including Deputies and Crime Scene Technicians, have shown up to their scheduled depositions presenting new supplementary evidence not previously shared with the defense.

Obviously, much preparation goes into a deposition, and that preparation is dependent upon having the opportunity to review all relevant evidence prior to the deposition itself. At least some of these depositions had to be rescheduled and others were only partially completed.

Defense Waiting on State Forensics Reports & Begins Choosing Own Experts

The defense also indicates in their filing that they are still waiting on various forensics reports form the State.

These include an anticipated FDLE (Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) report on gunshot residue on Oulson’s clothing and an analysis of firearm stippling distance. This would provide forensic insight on the distance separating Oulson from the muzzle of Reeve’s pistol when the fatal shot was filed.

The defense has, of course, selected its own ballistic/firearms expert on gunshot residue, to conduct an independent analysis. They also anticipate retaining an independent pathologist, as well as an independent ‘Audio/Visual/Image Specialist,” presumably for examination of the surveillance video captured form inside the theater at the time of the shooting.

In addition, the defense indicates that they have retained a “use of force expert,” whose testimony will naturally be critical to Reeve’s expected narrative of reasonable fear of imminent death or grave bodily harm at Oulson’s hands, such narrative being essential to Reeve’s claim of self-defense. They give no indication of who this may be, however.

The defense is also waiting for a report of the cell phone text messages found on Oulson’s phone, potentially relevant because it was Oulson’s texting that purportedly triggered the interaction between the two men.

Witness Claims Reeves Shouted at Him in Theater Eight Years Prior

In other news, a man has emerged who claims that Reeves shouted at him to “SHUT UP!” in a movie theater 8 years prior to the confrontation and shooting of Oulson, reports the Tampa Bay Times.

The man, Edward James Thompson, told law enforcement that he and a companion were talking quietly in a movie theater in 2006 when Reeves turned and growled “Why don’t you just shut up?”

(Note: The above is a 12 second segment of the 1:45 video interview of Thompson by ABC News. The entire video can be viewed here: http://is.gd/Mv0VXx)

Thompson says he did not originally come forward with this information because he was aware t what Reeves was being held without bail.  When Reeves was granted bail in July, however, Thompson says he contacted law enforcement to share his experience.

Escobar, Reeves’ defense attorney, discounted Thompson’s account, noting that an earlier such claim made by another person was proven to be “an absolute lie.”

Defendant’s Response to Court’s Pre-Trial Conference Order

–-Andrew, @LawSelfDefense


Andrew F. Branca is an MA lawyer and the author of the seminal book “The Law of Self Defense, 2nd Edition,” available at the Law of Self Defense blog (autographed copies available) and Amazon.com (paperback and Kindle). He also holds Law of Self Defense Seminars around the country, and provides free online self-defense law video lectures at the Law of Self Defense Institute and podcasts through iTunes, Stitcher, and elsewhere.

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Comments

The real question I want to understand is under what circumstances could a Voter shoot a Washington Congressman and claim “Justifiable Homicide”?

    Anchovy in reply to MattMusson. | September 17, 2014 at 4:58 pm

    Never and that is a stupid question. There is a way to remove politicians from office in this country (it might be difficult, but it exists) other than by violence. Don’t even start down the assassination road.

    In fact, I have never suggested a comment be deleted but, in this case, I think your comment needs to be removed.

    Gremlin1974 in reply to MattMusson. | September 17, 2014 at 8:14 pm

    Actually you can do that at any time you want and you can claim “justifiable homicide”, “God told me to”, or “he just needed killing”. You will still be tried and convicted of murder, but you can claim whatever you want.

    MattMusson in reply to MattMusson. | September 18, 2014 at 11:36 am

    I appologize to everyone. That was just a stupid joke in bad taste.

Not sure I’d want to be on the defense team, here. That said, your “Rule #1, keep out of trouble in the first place” is a good start, though. We pretty much don’t go to the movies any more, or many other venues for that matter, because the prevailing rule at them seems to be similar to the old line fans used at Eagles games thiry years ago, one that ultimatley led to installation of a court and cell block in the old Vet (Veterans stadium). “I bought a ticket, I can do as I da– well please.” Civility has been trashed in this country. Common courtesy, consideration for others, a sense of place…all gone. To voice an objection to some is to invite a box of pop corn in the face and be seen as intolerant.

    Gremlin1974 in reply to Owego. | September 17, 2014 at 8:56 pm

    I think it is important to point out here that Reeves is not the one that got up out of his seat to confront an elderly man in a darkened theater. That is not excusing Reeves actions nor saying they were justified it is simply what seems to be the facts.

    “I think it is important to point out here that Reeves is not the one that got up out of his seat to confront an elderly man in a darkened theater. That is not excusing Reeves actions nor saying they were justified it is simply what seems to be the facts.”

    Again, source? Simply standing up is not sufficient. Did Oulson close distance with Reeves?

    THAT would be a game changer, but I know of no credible source claiming this.

    –Andrew, @LawSelfDefense

      Gremlin1974 in reply to Andrew Branca. | September 17, 2014 at 10:32 pm

      I should have stated more clearly that I gathered this from the video, which isn’t great, but I think it fits what is contained in the video. Pure speculation on my part, I should have said that from the beginning.

      MouseTheLuckyDog in reply to Andrew Branca. | September 17, 2014 at 10:34 pm

      The video. Even the unenhanced one shows Oulson Reeves reaching over and grabbing Reeves popcorn then throwing it back at Reeves.

Humphrey's Executor | September 17, 2014 at 5:21 pm

100 Witnesses? Multiple experts? The cost of this defense will be staggering.

Reeves is 71 years old, and most people that age are taking medications. I haven’t seen any reports that mention his medical history as a possible factor in his behavior. I remember that my mother’s normally pleasant personality changed quite a bit when her medications were not doing their job, whether because her condition had changed but the dosage wasn’t properly adjusted or because poor memory made it difficult for her to stick to her medication schedule correctly. Angry outbursts were just one of many unwelcome changes in her personality; these problems resolved with adjustments in the choice and dosage of her medications.

So I am wondering if Reeves’ angry outburst and impatience might be explained, to some extent, by improperly managed hypertension or another medical condition. Was he belligerent and dictatorial during his years as a police officer? Or did his personality and behavior change as he aged, perhaps indicating a prescription problem or a medical condition that was not being properly treated? Does his medical history help explain his behavior?

I believe drug addicts don’t get away with blaming their crimes on the effects of illegal drug use because they willingly took mind- and mood-altering substances and that places the responsibility for their subsequent behavior on them. But patients taking prescription medications at their doctor’s direction also experience mind- and mood-altering consequences that can result in bad, even criminal, conduct. They are not being irresponsible in taking these substances, so is their culpability viewed differently from that of the illegal drug user’s? Are elderly defendants evaluated for medical problems and medication errors before a decision to prosecute is made?

We recognize the physical, emotional, and mental vulnerabilities that make the elderly prime targets of crime. We have elder-abuse and other laws that protect them when they are victims, just as we do for children who lack the mental and physical ability to protect themselves.

Criminal behavior in the elderly may well be due to the effects of aging and medication, not to moral lapses, disregard for the law, criminal tendencies, or even sheer geezer cussedness. The law recognizes their vulnerability when they are victims, but does it show the same regard on the other side of the coin when medical conditions result in criminal behavior?

    Gremlin1974 in reply to J Motes. | September 17, 2014 at 8:18 pm

    As a Nurse I can back you up on your points and medication can have an extreme effect on behavior at times, however, it would seem to me that it is a very complicated explanation to make to a jury.

    I do think you bring up another point, however, as an elderly man his eyesight and perceptions might not be quite what they used to be, believe me that 250 yard target at the rifle range seems a lot further away at 40 than it did at 20. That being said, he may have actually thought he saw a weapon and it ended up being a cell phone or other object.

      Ragspierre in reply to Gremlin1974. | September 17, 2014 at 8:46 pm

      Frankly, I know nothing about this defendant’s medical history, but it could easily be that he has suffered a stroke or heart attack. I’ve known very mild-mannered, self-possessed men who became wrathful and enraged over nothing following such an episode. Their personalities were radically changed, and through no fault of their own. They were not, by any legal definition, “insane”. They were, however, not the same and certainly not in control of their emotions.

    In Reeves’ case it might hardly matter.

    In some states you can argue “imperfect self-defense,” where the use of force was subjectively, but NOT objectively reasonable. If successful, it reduces what would have been murder to voluntary manslaughter.

    For a 20-year-old defendant, in most states, that can be a huge difference, between life in prison or something more like 8 years and paroled.

    For Reeves, a ~70-year-old, in Florida, with its 10-20-Life law, it hardly matters. Voluntary manslaughter with a firearm is still going to be a life sentence.

    –Andrew, @LawSelfDefense

This moron is a retired LEO? He’s giving licensed, trained concealed carriers a huge black eye with this unjustified and unjustifiable killing. He violated every single precept governing the carry and use of weapons, not to mention the ordinary common sense we expect of the sane.

While everyone deserves the best defense possible, this man’s lawyers would best serve him – and the community – by urging him to plead guilty and accept a sentence that includes confinement in a mental health facility. Let’s face it, anyone who believes an “assault and battery by popcorn” justifies the use of deadly force is not really sane.

    Gremlin1974 in reply to Walker Evans. | September 17, 2014 at 8:20 pm

    You know, since apparently you were in the theater that night and know so much about what actually happened you should probably restrict yourself from commenting on public forums about what happened since you seem to have all the answers.

    “This moron is a retired LEO? He’s giving licensed, trained concealed carriers a huge black eye with this unjustified and unjustifiable killing. He violated every single precept governing the carry and use of weapons, not to mention the ordinary common sense we expect of the sane.”

    I expect you’re right. But due process. He has a right to have his narrative of innocence heard by a jury.

    “While everyone deserves the best defense possible, this man’s lawyers would best serve him – and the community – by urging him to plead guilty and accept a sentence that includes confinement in a mental health facility. Let’s face it, anyone who believes an “assault and battery by popcorn” justifies the use of deadly force is not really sane.”

    Same answer. 🙂

    –Andrew, @LawSelfDefense

I don’t like murder. It’s a bad idea. But the vics in the cases LI has followed in detail have, in a logical sense, only themselves to blame. I get that Wafer was convicted and Reeve probably will be.
The road-rage case, and the Trayvon Martin case, and Chris Cervino, featured completely unsympathetic victims doing things that most of us would not do, and to which we would object if they’re done to us. Causing a fuss in a theater is not a capital offense, no matter the consensus of the other patrons. But it’s a voluntary act which the butthead knows is annoying other people and which he could stop any time. But chooses not to, as with the car stereo murder.
So, for CCW type, staying out of trouble is a good idea. For their vics, it’s usually pretty clear that if they’d been half civilized, they’d still be with us.
We don’t see CCW people shooting nuns in wheelchairs or six-year-olds in playgrounds.
Maybe this is what Heinlein had in mind, verdicts notwithstanding.

    Walker Evans in reply to Richard Aubrey. | September 18, 2014 at 6:07 pm

    “An armed society is a polite society.” Yep, he was right … but he wrote down that thought at a time when the culture was vastly different than it is now. He was also referring to a society in which open carry was the norm while in our ‘kinder, gentler’ society it is concealed carry; normal citizens are now disturbed by the sight of an openly carried firearm.

    I carry every day and believe the Old Man would still be right if open carry was not frowned upon. The stats on the number of crimes stopped by legal carriers every year – between 500,000 and 2,100,000 per year, depending on where you get your numbers – prove that armed citizens are a major deterrent to crime*. Ex-LEO Reeves is an aberration.

    *Personally I prefer the FBI numbers, as the anti-gun folks can’t claim they are “made up” by right-wing gun nuts.

I am just not sure on this one. I don’t see how Reeves gets out of testifying in his own defense. I can believe that he may have been in fear, I don’t think we have enough info on what happened to decide if that fear was reasonable.

I think he may be able to argue that there was a disparity due to his age vs the age of Oulson and physical disparity.

I think there are some things that are over looked in this case so far.

1. Oulson had apparently gotten out of his seat to confront an elderly man who is with his wife in a darkened theater.

2. Oulson was reportedly in his early 40’s and in good shape while Reeves i 71 and well elderly. Easily a disparity.

3. I also have to question why Oulson would confront the cantankerous old goat in the first place, unless it was to use intimidation. He could have easily gotten up and gone to get a manager and had them deal with the issue and then probably got complimentary tickets so see the movie at a different time. I have done so on many occasions. It seems clear that Oulson was trying to intimidate Reeves which would add credence to Reeves claim of being in fear.

These things don’t happen in a vacuum and everyone seems to be focused on the popcorn, but Oulson’s and Reeves behavior prior to the popcorn are just as important.

I can easily understand if Reeves thought the popcorn was a distraction that would be followed by an attack or Oulson reaching for a weapon.

I have also seen reports that claim that Oulson threw his cell phone at Reeves. Reeves could have thought that the cell was a weapon. Take a moment and think about it, because the video was taken by an infrared camera, so it is not realistic to the lighting in the theater. What Reeves was looking at was a young man silhouetted against a movie screen in a darkened theater, which means that it was very had to clearly see exactly what Oulson was doing especially if his hands were in front of his body. What I expect to hear from Reeves is that the man threw the popcorn and possibly phone at him, expecting an attack he saw a movement that he interpreted as either Oulson attacking or going for a weapon and he fired.

I will also be interested to see what the cop that was on the seen just seconds after the shot has to say.

I know many don’t feel that Reeves behavior was reasonable, however don’t forget that Oulson’s behavior matters as well and doesn’t seem all that reasonable when you think about it.

    MouseTheLuckyDog in reply to Gremlin1974. | September 17, 2014 at 10:54 pm

    I think the biggest piece of evidence will be the video.

    I take it for granted now that if a self-defense case is justified in being brought, the defendant will have to testify. The kind of case where the defendant doesn’t need to testify should probably not be brought in the first place. An example being George Zimmerman.

    As for Oulson, I have to wonder what there is in his bacground? Grabbing and throwing the popcorn certainly does not fit the “Gentle Chad” narrative.If he avoided fights it’s possibly because he intimated people.

“1. Oulson had apparently gotten out of his seat to confront an elderly man who is with his wife in a darkened theater. ”

That would be a game changer.

Source?

–Andrew, @LawSelfDefense

    Gremlin1974 in reply to Andrew Branca. | September 17, 2014 at 10:30 pm

    In the video I looks like Oulson was standing in front of Reeves. If I remember correctly Oulson was shot in the chest or abdomen, since Reeves doesn’t appear to stand and shoots from a seated position, it would seem that either Oulson either left his seat or stood up and turned around.

MouseTheLuckyDog | September 17, 2014 at 11:05 pm

People, let’s not forget: the theater has a very bad infrared video of the incident. I don’t want to keep repeating it so I thought I would post it in this one thread.

Fact’s established in the video.
Reeves has a discussion. Gets up,comes back, and sits down.
Oulson makes a gesture like throwing something. In an enhanced video, You see a bright object flying from Oulson’s hand. In gthe plain video, you don’t. I wonder if they will allow the enhanced video.
Oulson reaches down and grabs Reeves popcorn and flicks it in his face. At almost the exact time Reeves pulls his gun and fires. (Reeves starts about the time Oulson is releasing the popcorn.)

First, I don’t know what something that allegedly happened 8 years ago – something that was in no way criminal or even vaguely improper – has anything to do with the current prosecution. It certainly will never see the inside of a Tampa courtroom. Next, the defendant – according to media reports – first asked (demanded maybe?) the victim to stop whatever it was he was doing that violated the theater’s policies. Then the defendant went to the manager to complain, but the manager apparently blew him off (typical). When he returned to his seat, it was supposedly the victim who reengaged, by questioning the defendant aggressively, something to the theme of “Did you just complain about me?” At that point, the victim stood up and turned in his seat, while the defendant remained seated. The rest follows. I’d be curious about the relative height and weight of the two parties, as photos of the victim seem to show a fairly large man (at some kind of motorcycling event). I’d also be curious if the victim has any prior history of altercations. Likewise, what about the defendant’s medical history, including whether he might be an alcoholic. There’s too much of a vacuum in the news coverage, which conveniently fits the narrative of innocent guy shot by gun-toting ex-cop produced by insane SYG law. That may be accurate. But I suspect it’s not nearly so clear cut. In Ferguson, the media went so far as to be publishing stories about the cop’s parents, doing things when the cop was a child. But here, the victim is a cipher, absolutely nothing? Likewise, the defendant, work history, anything? It’s all about “shot for throwing popcorn.” And by the way, the victim’s wife’s tale of being shot while trying to protect her husband? Far more likely that she was trying to hold him back from doing something stupid to an old man over nothing. I’m not saying the shooting was justified. Impossible to put a good spin on it at all. But I’m guessing a defense presentation of maybe addled old man who overreacted out of fear when attacked by a large, younger bully with a history of same.

The Old Crusader | September 18, 2014 at 11:02 am

This is not exactly case specific, but it is related to legality.

Does anyone else feel that in cases like Popcorn and Porchfront-shooting that our society is ill served by the conventional murder trial process?

Consider these two men – our 70-some year old Floridian and our 55-year old Detroiter.

What benefit to anybody comes of locking them up?

The Florida chap is not likely to kill again – particularly if his concealed carry is jerked. The judge herself in the Detroit case acknowledged that the defendant was not a danger.

Wouldn’t it be better to resurrect Weregild (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Weregild) for these cases?

Come up with some fine that at least gives the survivors/estate something?

Clearly we would only want to do this in the case where we realistically believe that the killer is not inclined or likely to kill again. This is conditional on malice not being involved to begin with.

Otherwise all that is happening is that the taxpayers are on the hook for years of warehousing these guys and the survivors get nothing.

    Ok, but who gets to decide what someone’s life is worth and why is Person A’s life worth more than Person B’s life. Also if we can actually value a life in a dollar amount why can’t we just consider that life a product to be purchased. Basically this idea is about on the same level as institutionalized slavery to me.

    Life is priceless, how do you tell a parent who lost a young child in a drive by that that child’s life is only worth X amount of dollars, how do you know that child wouldn’t have grown up to find the cure for cancer?

    Life can not be valued in a dollar amount, which is why it is always tragic when we lose young people, even Michael Brown and Trayvon Martin, because we not only lost a life but we lost the hope that should be attached to every life. The hope that maybe they would have found a different path, the hope that they could have touched other lives in a positive way. I know many people say things like, “they were just thugs” and sure maybe they were right at the time, but you can’t say that they would have always been thugs. I have worked in substance abuse treatment and I know many people who have turned their lives around, I know former gang members that try to help keep kids out of the gang culture, and I know people who came from nothing and made something of themselves. All of these people have been invaluable to me in my career and life and I could not have accomplished all that I have without them and will be forever grateful that they found their way out of drugs, gangs, or whatever. You can’t value hope and life.

    Heck I even know lawyers that that became fine citizens! 🙂

At some point in the future I would love to see Mr. Branca parse out the supposed ‘self defense’ shooting of Rocky Raccoon by Daniel, especially since the lyrics report that it was Daniel who drew first and shot.

“The man, Edward James Thompson, told law enforcement that he and a companion were talking quietly in a movie theater in 2006 when Reeves turned and growled “Why don’t you just shut up?””

I’m pretty sure I’ve done this myself at least once in the past 9 years. However I don’t see how it is relevant to this case.

I don’t see how this alleged incident eight years ago, if true, hurts the defense. The person admits he was acting in a way that would cause anyone to briefly consider shooting him, and yet the defendant didn’t shoot him, but merely told him to shut up, as any normal person would do.

And why would Reeve’s bail status matter to this alleged witness? Does he claim to be afraid that Reeve will hunt him down and kill him?!

    Gremlin1974 in reply to Milhouse. | September 18, 2014 at 7:13 pm

    I was wondering the same thing. I also wonder if maybe this guy has a pretty extensive minor criminal record and was a favorite bust of the retired officer.

We talked about this months ago…

I feel for the old guy, and of course the dead guy.

I suspect a reduced mental capacity in Reeves and things happening quickly (too quickly) for him to keep up mentally in a darkened theater. This coupled with grouchy old man syndrome, a man feeling weak and vulnerable at his age compared to a 40 year old, and the hand goes naturally to the weapon in fear. Then suddenly there is a looming figure, something flies at his face, and instincts kick in. The wrong instincts for that place and time. Boom.

It’s soooooooo easy to see how this could play out, and so sad.

Depending upon what evidence is presented in court and the make-up of the jury, this case could go either way. On the one hand you have a verbal altercation, taking place at a distance of 3-4 feet in a confined space which does not allow for a quick retreat, which becomes moderately physical [popcorn throwing] that ends in one person shooting the other. Under these circumstances, the use of deadly force is obviously not justified. However, when you include the disparity in ages, physical condition and size, the lack of avenues to retreat and the fact that the physical aggressor [the deceased] appears to have actually invaded the older man’s space by reaching over the back of the seat separating them, then a jury may be swayed toward justifiable use of deadly force. the potential for this becomes even greater, if the deceased actually made contact with the shooter, prior to the shot being fired.

Could go either way. We’ll just have to see what happens.

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