LAND O'LAKES — Curtis Reeves Jr., the retired police captain accused of shooting to death a fellow moviegoer in January after an argument over texting, was released from jail Friday night after a judge set a $150,000 bail.
Reeves had been held without bail for nearly six months after his arrest in the fatal shooting of Chad Oulson in a Wesley Chapel movie theater. A ruling by an appellate court Friday morning prompted the judge to give Reeves bail.
Reeves, 71, emerged from jail about 8 p.m. wearing a white shirt and red tie. A couple of dozen family members applauded and shared hugs with him. He and his wife, Vivian, and their son and daughter all held hands as the couple walked to a waiting sport utility vehicle and were driven away.
Reeves, a retired Tampa police captain, did not make a statement to the media. His attorney, Rick Escobar, talked with the dozen or so reporters at the scene.
"He's free. He's where he should be," Escobar said. "He's where he should have been from the beginning. He's looking forward to spending a great deal of time with his family."
At an earlier news conference, TJ Grimaldi, a private attorney who represents Oulson's widow, Nicole, said his client was upset by the ruling.
"Devastated is an understatement," he said.
Circuit Judge Pat Siracusa set the $150,000 bail for Reeves in an order released Friday afternoon. The judge ruled that Reeves must remain at his Hernando County home except to go to church, the doctor's office or the grocery store. He also must surrender firearms, wear an ankle monitor and avoid contact with Nicole Oulson.
Reeves is charged with second-degree murder in connection with Chad Oulson's death on Jan. 13. Authorities say the men got into an argument inside the theater after Reeves became perturbed at Oulson for texting during previews.
Reeves pulled a handgun from his pocket and fired once. Reeves' attorneys say Oulson, 43, was attacking him, and he fired in self-defense.
Siracusa held a two-day bail hearing in February that included extensive testimony from witnesses inside the Grove 16 Theatre as well as family and friends of Reeves. At the end, he found that Reeves was not a flight risk nor a danger to the community but decided prosecutors had met the burden for keeping him in jail.
Siracusa ordered him held without bail until trial. Reeves' attorneys appealed.
The Second District Court of Appeal told Siracusa in an opinion issued Friday morning that he could set bail, though it stopped short of directing him to release Reeves.
In an order issued Friday afternoon, Siracusa affirmed the appellate court's statement that Reeves' attorneys "presented exceptionally strong evidence in support for pretrial release." He wrote that he issued the first order denying bail on the presumption that he had no discretion to set one if prosecutors met their burden that "proof of guilt is evident or the presumption is great."
He noted that the defense had presented "extensive" testimony that their client, who has a clean criminal history and deep community ties, was not a danger or a flight risk.
Grimaldi said the fact that Reeves gets to go home is "unbelievably unfair." He fears Reeves' attorneys will try to delay the trial now that Reeves is out of jail.
He called Reeves "an absolute danger to society."
Responding to that characterization, Escobar said Grimaldi's words were intended "to poison the public."
"We don't lose sight of the fact that a life has been lost," Escobar said, but added: "We need to focus on the factual circumstances of this case."
At the jail, Escobar said the release should not be viewed as vindication, though he is confident his client will be acquitted.
"We're overjoyed," he said. "The system of justice has worked."
Times staff writers Zack Peterson and Keeley Sheehan contributed to this report. Contact Lisa Buie at email@example.com or (813) 909-4604. Follow @Lisa_Buie.