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Theater surveillance video emerges as key evidence during Pasco 'stand your ground' hearing

DADE CITY — As patrons settled into their seats to watch a movie in theater No. 10 that day, they became part of the show.

A pair of surveillance cameras mounted high on opposite walls captured the clearest picture authorities now have of the fatal shooting that happened Jan. 13, 2014, at Cobb Grove 16.

The images were shown frame-by-frame, at varying speeds, to a judge in a Dade City courtroom Tuesday. They appear to depict retired Tampa police Capt. Curtis Reeves leaning forward in his seat, then shrinking back. They show another man's arm reaching out, grabbing Reeves' bag of popcorn and then tossing it at Reeves' face.

An instant later, Reeves reached into his pocket, then pointed a gun at the man in front of him, who prosecutors say was Chad Oulson, 43. A muzzle flash followed.

Bruce Koenig, a video forensics expert, testified for several hours Tuesday in the "stand your ground" hearing in the case against Reeves. Defense attorneys argue that Reeves shot in self-defense and that he should be immune from prosecution.

Accounts of what preceded the shooting, as told in court so far, have been based solely on the memories of witnesses.

Koenig, a former FBI agent who has analyzed and enhanced video evidence in some of the nation's most high-profile court cases, spoke about enhancements that were made to the theater surveillance videos.

The images, Koenig said, consisted of 76,000 colored pixels. He said even an older iPhone takes pictures that include more than 6 million pixels.

One surveillance camera, positioned over Reeves' right shoulder, recorded the actual shooting in the bottom-right portion of its frame. Using various forensic techniques, Koenig increased the size of that portion of the frame and increased the brightness to offer a clearer view.

An earlier clip, recorded 7 seconds before the shooting, appears to show Reeves moving forward in his seat, then shrinking backward as something moves toward him.

Koenig attempted to isolate the frames in that sequence. One frame shows what defense attorney Richard Escobar believes is Oulson's arm coming toward Reeves. Another frame shows a small white object that appears to be moving toward him.

Defense attorneys say that small object is a cellphone.

"It was clear that was Oulson's first attack on Mr. Reeves," Escobar said after. "And we believe at that point in time, clearly Mr. Oulson threw that phone."

Attorneys spent much of their time Tuesday parsing the different techniques video experts can use to enlarge or zoom in on objects.

Koenig said he used a technique called "nearest neighbor," which preserves the shapes and proportions of objects when blown up to show their individual pixels.

Another technique is called "interpolation," in which the program used to enlarge an object in an image — in this case Adobe Photoshop — doesn't preserve the proportions. Instead, it adds detail to the object, making an educated guess as to what the object should look like. Koenig said this method isn't suitable for forensic analysis, as it corrupts the original image.

Assistant State Attorney Glenn Martin asked Koenig whether a single image can accurately depict the movement of an object.

"One frame and one frame alone cannot tell you what happened in an event that occurs over time?" Martin said.

"I would agree with that," Koenig said.

Whether what's depicted in the recording is indeed a self-defense killing will, for now, be up to Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Susan Barthle to decide. If she rules in favor of the defense, Reeves will be immune from prosecution. If not, the case will head toward trial on a second-degree murder charge.

Earlier Tuesday, the court heard from a witness who offered yet another perspective of the shooting.

Joanna Turner and her husband were in the theater a few seats down from where Reeves sat with his wife when Turner saw Oulson stand in the row in front of her, she testified. She recalled seeing him holding a dark object that looked like a mug or thermos and raising it up in a throwing motion.

"I'm texting my daughter," she heard Oulson say, "if you don't mind."

Reeves leaned to his left. Turner saw popcorn fly.

"I see popcorn landing on Mr. Reeves' stomach," Turner said. "And very quickly, I see the ring of fire."

Reeves had pulled a gun and shot Oulson in the chest. Turner watched Oulson step back, then stagger down the aisle where he collapsed. Afterward, Reeves leaned forward with his head in his hands.

Turner recalled seeing Reeves walk out of the theater before the shooting, when he went to notify a manager that Oulson was using a cellphone during the previews. When he came back, he brushed past Turner and her husband.

"I thought he was kind of rude because he didn't say 'excuse me' when he walked by," she said.

The hearing resumes at 9 a.m. today.

Contact Dan Sullivan at dsullivan@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3386. Follow @TimesDan.

Burden of proof

Florida's controversial "stand your ground" law, adopted in 2005, allows residents to use deadly force in defense of their lives or property in certain instances. They have no obligation to flee or retreat. Current practice, supported by the Florida Supreme Court, requires defendants to prove before trial why they're entitled to such immunity.

Theater surveillance video emerges as key evidence during Pasco 'stand your ground' hearing 02/21/17 [Last modified: Wednesday, February 22, 2017 12:32pm]
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