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February trial date set in Curtis Reeves theater-shooting case

Curtis Reeves, who is charged with second-degree murder in the 2014 movie theater shooting of Chad Oulson, has used a "stand your ground" defense during court proceedings in Pasco County. [Times files (2017)]
Curtis Reeves, who is charged with second-degree murder in the 2014 movie theater shooting of Chad Oulson, has used a "stand your ground" defense during court proceedings in Pasco County. [Times files (2017)]
Published May 29, 2018

DADE CITY — A judge has set a trial date of Feb. 25, 2019, in the case of Curtis Reeves, the retired Tampa police captain who claims he was acting in self-defense when he shot another man in a Wesley Chapel movie theater.

Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Susan Barthle scheduled the trial at a hearing Tuesday, declining a defense attorney's request to hold off.

"I really don't see any other option," Barthle said. "It's time."

Earlier this month, an appeals court upheld her decision to deny Reeves immunity from prosecution under the "stand your ground" self-defense law. Still unclear, though, is whether a new "stand your ground" hearing might be in order, due to recent changes to the law.

Defense attorney Dino Michaels thinks so. At Tuesday's hearing, he said the judge should wait until the Florida Supreme Court weighs in on the issue.

"If we set a trial date, the defense would be forced to file a motion for a new hearing," Michaels said.

But Assistant State Attorney Glenn Martin said the case has dragged long enough.

"This is four years now in the making," he said. "Let's get it done."

Reeves, 75, is charged with second-degree murder in the Jan. 13, 2014, shooting of Chad Oulson inside the Cobb Grove 16 theaters. The two men argued over Oulson's use of a cell phone during movie previews. Oulson approached Reeves and threw a bag of popcorn at him before Reeves drew a handgun and shot Oulson in the chest.

In court, Reeves invoked "stand your ground," which says a person has no duty to retreat when faced with a violent confrontation and can use deadly force if faced with great bodily harm or death. His attorneys argued that Reeves feared Oulson was about to start beating him when he fired the fatal shot.

The matter was the focus of a widely watched two-week hearing in spring 2017.

Barthle rejected the defense argument. Reeves appealed, but the ruling was upheld.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Appeals court denies challenge to 'stand your ground' ruling in Pasco theater shooting (May 11, 2018)

Weeks after the "stand your ground" hearing, the state passed a revised version of the law, which shifted the burden of proof in such cases to prosecutors. Previously, the defendant had to prove he or she was in fear when using deadly force.

Courts statewide have disagreed about whether the new burden of proof standard should apply to "stand your ground" cases that were pending when the new law was passed.

Attorneys for both sides in the Reeves case noted conflicting appellate decisions; one appeals court has said the law is retroactive while another has said it is not.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: 'Stand your ground' decision raises prospect of new hearing in Pasco theater shooting (May 9, 2018)

The issue is likely to be decided by the Florida Supreme Court. But no one can predict how long that will take.

"I can't just sit by on this case or any other and just wait," Barthle said.

Reeves did not attend Tuesday's hearing. He remains free on bail.

Oulson's widow watched the proceedings quietly, sitting beside her attorney T.J. Grimaldi. Afterward, he told reporters they were happy the case was moving forward.

"I think it's quite ridiculous that it has taken four years," he said.

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

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