Autopsy report indicates movie theater shooting victim raised his hand before gun was fired

Published Feb. 13, 2014

The bullet fired into the chest of the man who died inside a Wesley Chapel movie theater last month also grazed his right hand, indicating the victim might have raised it at the moment he was shot, according to the autopsy report released Wednesday.

Chad Oulson was shot inside the Grove Cobb 16 theater Jan. 13 in what authorities described as an argument over texting. Curtis Reeves Jr., a 71-year-old retired Tampa police captain, became agitated about the texting, authorities say, and shot Oulson as the argument escalated. Reeves is charged with second-degree murder.

"The paths of the two gunshot wounds correspond when the right hand/wrist is held in front of the thorax and likely represent the path of a single bullet," noted chief medical examiner Jon Thogmartin, whose staff examined the body of Oulson, 43. The report also mentions unburned powder and debris found on the back of Oulson's right hand.

The autopsy report appears to corroborate an enhanced surveillance video taken from inside auditorium 10, where the shooting took place. In the video, Reeves leans forward in his seat, then Oulson's hand extends across the chair, just barely entering the video clip, and dumps something in Reeves' lap. (Witnesses say they saw Oulson throw popcorn at Reeves.) Without pause, Reeves reaches his right hand forward and fires, the muzzle flash bursting outside the camera's frame.

Witnesses in the dimly lit theater said they heard words exchanged but did not see any physical contact between the two men. But Reeves told sheriff's detectives shortly after the shooting that something struck him in the face, knocking his glasses crooked. His legal team has said he acted in self defense.

Reeves' attorney, Richard Escobar, declined to comment on the report. However, he told reporters after a judge denied bail on Friday that the facts would ultimately exonerate his client and urged reporters to seek experts' opinion on the video.

"Don't rush to judgment," Escobar said last week.

Prosecutors did not return calls for comment.

The autopsy report also says Oulson was shot in the left side of his chest, with the bullet perforating the fourth left rib and piercing his heart. Examiners removed a yellow metal bullet jacket from the base of his heart and a lead fragment from his right lung.