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Judge presses toward trial in Curtis Reeves movie theater shooting case

The eight-year-long saga is set to go before jurors next month.
Curtis Reeves, center, attended a motion hearing last month. His second-degree murder case is scheduled to go to a jury next month.
Curtis Reeves, center, attended a motion hearing last month. His second-degree murder case is scheduled to go to a jury next month. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]
Published Jan. 13|Updated Jan. 13

DADE CITY — The judge overseeing the case of movie theater shooter Curtis Reeves didn’t mince words Thursday afternoon.

“We are down to literally days of work time before this is scheduled to be tried,” Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Susan Barthle said, “so I’m going to have to really set some serious deadlines.”

The case against Reeves, 79, who faces charges of second-degree murder and aggravated battery in the 2014 shooting death of Chad Oulson, 43, in a Pasco County movie theater, has dragged on for eight years through trial delays, a lengthy stand-your-ground hearing, and a number of prosecutors and judges.

In fact, the case is before Barthle for the second time after the most recent judge, Kemba Lewis, was moved to a civil division this month as part of routine judicial rotations. Barthle oversaw, and struck down, Reeves’ stand-your-ground bid in 2017.

But Thursday’s status check hearing was another signal that the trial might just happen this time, set to start Feb. 7. Barthle scheduled hearings for next week to resolve 19 outstanding motions and discussed a 20th motion pertaining to a defense expert witness that will be heard at a later date.

Related: Could Curtis Reeves movie theater shooting case finally go to trial?
Circuit Court Judge Susan Barthle presides over a hearing for Curtis Reeves in 2017. The case is set to finally go to trial in February.
Circuit Court Judge Susan Barthle presides over a hearing for Curtis Reeves in 2017. The case is set to finally go to trial in February.

She also set the parameters for the jury pool: The clerk of court will summon 250 East Pasco residents to be considered for the six-member panel. They’ll be broken into groups of 50 people per day over five days of jury selection.

After lead defense attorney Richard Escobar raised a concern about Florida’s sharp rise in coronavirus cases spurred by the omicron variant, Barthle said she would allow for four alternates to ensure they wouldn’t run out of people.

The shooting, which came out of an argument over Oulsen’s cellphone use during movie previews, made national headlines and was covered extensively by the news media — always a concern in picking an objective jury.

Barthle said that jurors should not be excluded by simply knowing about the case. It could become an issue, she said, if they’d formed an opinion or had fixed ideas about it.

But with how long it’s taken, she said, “there are people who probably haven’t heard of this case.”

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