Tuesday, September 18, 2018
Editorials

Editorial: Judge correct in rejecting 'stand your ground' claim

Two weeks of testimony did not convince a Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Court judge that Curtis Reeves should be immune from prosecution for shooting and killing a man in a movie theater. Judge Susan Barthle made the right decision in allowing the case, which invokes Florida's badly flawed "stand your ground" law, to proceed toward trial. Reeves should have to face a jury of his peers, and Floridians should pay close attention to changes being considered to the state's infamous self-defense law.

The shooting occurred in January 2014, before the start of a weekday matinee inside the Cobb Grove 16 theater in Wesley Chapel. Reeves sat down with his wife, Vivian, in the back row. In front of them, Chad Oulson and his wife, Nicole, settled in. Reeves became agitated because Chad Oulson was using his cellphone during the previews. The retired Tampa police captain asked Oulson to put his phone away and the confrontation escalated. Witnesses who were inside the theater described an argument that grew louder on both sides. It ended when Oulson grabbed Reeves' popcorn bag and threw it at him, and Reeves pulled a pistol from his pocket and fired once, striking Oulson, 43, in the chest. Reeves, 71 at the time, was charged with second-degree murder and aggravated battery. As unnecessary as it seems to shoot a person over a cellphone argument at the movies, the case immediately raised the possibility that Reeves would claim self-defense under "stand your ground."

The 2005 law says people have no duty to retreat and can use deadly force if they "reasonably believe" they are in imminent danger of death or great bodily harm. Reeves testified that he feared Oulson — who was younger and stronger — was about to pummel him; that Oulson was coming over the seat; that as an older man with numerous health problems, he felt he had no escape but to shoot. Barthle, though, concluded that Reeves' version of events contradicted the physical evidence (which included a grainy theater surveillance video), other witness accounts and common sense. She noted that Reeves left to complain to management about Oulson's phone use, apparently unconcerned about leaving his wife alone in the theater. Because Oulson was out of the frame of the video when the gun fired, the judge rejected Reeves' claim that Oulson was lunging toward him at the moment of the shooting. "The logical conclusion," Barthle wrote, "is that he was trying to justify his actions after the fact."

"Stand your ground" is a bad law that has allowed criminals and violent offenders to evade punishment — even when they initiated a fight with an unarmed victim. Yet the Senate could vote on a bill as early as next week that would make the situation worse by shifting the burden of proof in immunity hearings from the defendant to prosecutors, who would have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt why a person shouldn't be immune. In essence, SB 128, sponsored by Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, would require the state to try cases twice. Legal experts predict that if it passes, defense attorneys across Florida will demand immunity hearings in every case where self-defense could possibly apply.

The judge's ruling Friday does not mean Curtis Reeves is guilty of murder. Even though he failed to prove that he should be immune from prosecution, he can still claim self-defense at trial and a jury can decide. Just because Reeves did not win "stand your ground'' protection is no reason to turn a bad law on its head and make it even worse.

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Tuesday’s letters: Honor Flight restored my faith in America

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Updated: 6 hours ago

Editorial cartoons for Sept. 18

From Times wires
Published: 09/17/18

Column: We’re measuring the economy all wrong

Ten years after the collapse of Lehman Bros., the official economic statistics — the ones that fill news stories, television shows and presidential tweets — say that the U.S. economy is fully recovered.The unemployment rate is lower tha...
Published: 09/17/18
Editorial: Senate should delay vote on Kavanaugh

Editorial: Senate should delay vote on Kavanaugh

The Senate and the nation needs to hear more about the sexual assault allegation against U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. Setting aside Kavanaugh's judicial record, his political past and the hyper-partisan divide over his nomination, a no...
Published: 09/17/18
Editorial: Tampa council has another chance to show it takes Stovall House changes seriously

Editorial: Tampa council has another chance to show it takes Stovall House changes seriously

The Tampa City Council has yet to hear a compelling reason to allow a private social club in a residential neighborhood off Bayshore Boulevard, and a final meeting on the matter scheduled for Thursday offers the council a chance to show the diligence...
Published: 09/14/18
Editorial: Focus on Hurricane Florence, not defending poor response in Puerto Rico

Editorial: Focus on Hurricane Florence, not defending poor response in Puerto Rico

Hurricane Florence began lashing down on the Carolinas Thursday and was expected to make landfall early Friday, washing over dunes, downing trees and power lines and putting some 10 million people in the path of a potentially catastrophic storm. Flor...
Published: 09/13/18
Editorial: Scott sends positive signal on Supreme Court appointments

Editorial: Scott sends positive signal on Supreme Court appointments

Gov. Rick Scott has headed down a dangerous path by announcing he has started the process to fill three upcoming vacancies on the Florida Supreme Court as he heads out the door. But to his credit, the governor indicated his "expectation’’ is that he ...
Published: 09/12/18
Updated: 09/14/18
Editorial: Stalled U.S.-Cuba relations hurting Florida business

Editorial: Stalled U.S.-Cuba relations hurting Florida business

After an encouraging start, the breakdown in America’s reset with Cuba is a loss for both sides and for the state of democracy across the region. Havana and Washington are both to blame, but the Trump administration’s hard line with Cuba is out of sy...
Published: 09/12/18
Lessons from Moonves’ ouster

Lessons from Moonves’ ouster

If the swift departure of CBS Chairman Les Moonves has a bright side, it’s that a major television network took accusations of sexual harassment against its chief executive seriously enough to hold him accountable and obtain his resignation even at t...
Published: 09/11/18
Updated: 09/14/18
Editorial: Banks should not shut down campaign accounts for marijuana ties

Editorial: Banks should not shut down campaign accounts for marijuana ties

Two banks have taken the retaliatory step of closing down the campaign account of a statewide candidate because she received contributions from the medical marijuana industry. Nikki Fried, the Democratic nominee for agriculture commissioner, has been...
Published: 09/10/18
Updated: 09/14/18