Lawyers on both sides of Curtis Reeves trial in an eight-year-old Florida murder agree that it began with a man who left his phone on in a movie theater. Reeves was so irked by the white light emanating from Chad Oulson’s device that he got up to notify a manager at a Tampa-area matinee. Oulson, 43, threw popcorn at Reeves. Then Reeves, a retired police officer, pulled out a handgun and fired into the other man’s chest, the Washington Post reports. Prosecutors said this was clearly murder — a violent overreaction to some tossed snacks. Reeves argued that he was protecting himself and cited Florida’s “stand your ground” law, which removed the “duty to retreat” from a threat if possible before responding with deadly force. On Monday, eight years after the fatal shooting in Wesley Chapel, Fl., lawyers gave opening statements in a long-delayed trial that will hinge on whether Reeves can successfully claim self-defense.
Reeves’s case has stretched on amid appeals, pandemic disruptions and a battle over stand-your-ground, as he tests the limits of a law that has spread around the nation despite concerns that it enables reckless violence. Reeves, 71 at the time of shooting, is charged with aggravated battery and murder in the second degree, which in Florida means a killing stemming from “an act imminently dangerous to another and evincing a depraved mind regardless of human life.” Defense lawyer Dino Michaels disputed the idea that Oulson was killed over popcorn, arguing that Reeves’s age made him vulnerable and that he felt genuinely endangered. He told jurors that “something happened” to threaten Reeves before the popcorn toss — he was hit with Oulson’s cellphone, which prosecutors deny. Judge Susan Barthle rejected Reeves’s attempt to dismiss charges under Florida’s stand-your-ground law. She said witnesses and physical evidence undercut Reeves’s testimony. She was “not willing to come to the conclusion” that stand-your-ground protected his actions.