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Appeals court denies challenge to 'stand your ground' ruling in Pasco theater shooting

Curtis Reeves Jr. is charged with fatally shooting Chad Oulson, 43, and wounding his wife, Nicole, 33. Deputies say Reeves shot Oulson during an argument over texting before a movie at the Cobb Grove 16 theater near Interstate 75 in Wesley Chapel. [BRENDAN FITTERER   |   Times]
Curtis Reeves Jr. is charged with fatally shooting Chad Oulson, 43, and wounding his wife, Nicole, 33. Deputies say Reeves shot Oulson during an argument over texting before a movie at the Cobb Grove 16 theater near Interstate 75 in Wesley Chapel. [BRENDAN FITTERER | Times]
Published May 11, 2018

An appeals court has denied a challenge to a "stand your ground" ruling in the Curtis Reeves theater shooting case, putting the retired Tampa police captain one step closer to a murder trial.

The 2nd District Court of Appeal quietly declined this week to reverse a judge's decision barring Reeves from immunity under the self-defense law.

But Reeves may still seek a new "stand your ground" hearing, based on a separate recent appellate decision, which declared that prosecutors bear the burden of proof in such cases.

"We're going to look forward to that," said Reeves' attorney, Richard Escobar.

The appeals court issued its denial after receiving written arguments from defense attorneys and prosecutors.

Reeves, 75, is accused of second-degree murder in the Jan. 13, 2014, shooting of Chad Oulson. The killing occurred after the two men argued over Oulson's use of a cell phone during movie previews in a Wesley Chapel theater. Oulson tossed a bag of popcorn at Reeves, who then drew a gun and shot him in the chest.

Reeves invoked the "stand your ground" law, which says a person has no duty to retreat when faced with a violent confrontation and can use deadly force if in fear of great bodily harm or death.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Judge rejects 'stand your ground' in Curtis Reeves case (March 10, 2017)

The matter was the subject of a grueling two-week hearing last year. Reeves' defense attorneys tried to persuade Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Susan Barthle that the defendant feared Oulson was about to beat him up when he fired the fatal shot.

The judge didn't buy it. The defense then appealed.

With the denial of their appeal this week, the case will begin moving yet again in Barthle's courtroom.

"Justice is finally showing its head and the right decisions are being made," said attorney T.J. Grimaldi, who represents Oulson's widow, Nicole Oulson.

At the same time, Grimaldi said it is unclear whether a new "stand your ground" hearing can go forward.

After last year's hearing, state legislators tweaked the law to put the burden of proof on prosecutors, rather than the defense. Since then, judges throughout the state have disagreed about whether the new law should apply to cases that were pending at the time it was enacted.

Last week, the 2nd District Court of Appeal ruled that it should be retroactive. The decision could lead to new "stand your ground" hearings in scores of cases.

But things got murkier Friday, when the Miami-based 3rd District Court of Appeal weighed in and said the law is not retroactive.

The conflicting appellate decisions make it more likely that the issue will be decided by the Florida Supreme Court.

The retroactivity issue was not brought up in Reeves' appeal.

RELATED: Florida lawmakers changed 'stand your ground' law. Chaos followed. (Feb. 2, 2018)

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