Curtis Reeves Jr., the retired Tampa police captain arrested in a fatal movie theater shooting during an argument over texting, is asking an appeals court to overturn a judge's ruling denying bail and free him from jail.
A lawyer on Reeves' defense team filed the petition this week asking the 2nd District Court of Appeal to allow Reeves to be released until trial on second-degree murder and aggravated battery charges.
"Because (Reeves) has wrongfully been denied pretrial release, he is being illegally detained," attorney Frances Martinez wrote.
Reeves, 71, has been in the Pasco County jail since Jan. 13, when authorities say he shot fellow theater patron Chad Oulson, 43, of Land O'Lakes at the Grove Cobb Theatre in Wesley Chapel.
The bullet hit Oulson in the chest and grazed the left ring finger of his wife, Nicole.
Authorities say the shooting happened after Reeves became irritated over Oulson's refusal to stop texting his 2-year-old daughter's caregiver during movie previews. Reeves left briefly to complain to management, then returned. Moments later, witnesses said they saw popcorn fly and heard a shot. They gave varying accounts at Reeves' bail hearing in February.
Because of those conflicting stories, prosecutors did not meet their legal burden to keep Reeves in jail, his attorneys argued. They also argue that prosecutors had to refute Reeves' claim he acted in self-defense, which is also required to deny bail.
It's a defense Reeves' attorneys have maintained from the start. Oulson, whose autopsy results show he had gunpowder marks on his hand, attacked their client by grabbing Reeves' popcorn, throwing a cellphone at him and then raising his fist just before the bullet stopped him, they say.
They also say Reeves' seat near the back of theater gave him no way to retreat, even though legally he didn't have to. If Reeves overreacted in shooting Oulson, they said, that constitutes a charge of manslaughter, not murder, constitutionally entitling Reeves to bail.
They also pointed out Reeves' deep community ties. He owns a home in Hernando County, where he lives with his wife and an adult daughter and granddaughter. He is a veteran law enforcement officer, with no disciplinary history.
Reeves' attorneys said that in denying bail, Circuit Judge Pat Siracusa ignored the requirements of the law, which holds the state to a higher burden of proof that is required in a jury trial.
Siracusa, after a two-day bail hearing, ruled that the state met the test and that "the proof of guilt is evident and presumption is great." But he declined to spell out exactly how, saying he didn't want to aid prosecutors' case or contribute to pretrial publicity.
Reeves' attorneys said the judge didn't spell out the facts behind his ruling "because no such evidence exists."
At least one expert agrees. J. Larry Hart, a former state and federal prosecutor who now works as a defense attorney, said the failure to explain the basis for the ruling will help Reeves in his effort to get bail. He also thinks the other arguments — Reeves' belief he was under attack, his community ties, and the fact that the law leans in favor of pretrial release — bode well for him.
"I think he has a (chance)," Hart said.
Nicole Oulson's attorney, TJ Grimaldi, said they are confident that "justice will prevail and Mr. Reeves will remain where he should be for the rest of his natural life, behind bars."
Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, who will represent the state in the appeal, has until May 13 to respond to the petition.