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Curtis Reeves trial: Witness saw something thrown. Then she heard the shot.

Seven more witnesses were called by the defense in a marathon day of expert and witness testimony Tuesday.
 
Curtis Reeves turns to look at his wife, Vivian Reeves, left, before she is called as a defense witness Monday during his second-degree murder trial in Dade City.
Curtis Reeves turns to look at his wife, Vivian Reeves, left, before she is called as a defense witness Monday during his second-degree murder trial in Dade City. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]
Published Feb. 22, 2022|Updated Feb. 23, 2022

DADE CITY — For the six men and women who will soon be called upon to decide the fate of Curtis Reeves, Tuesday’s hearing was an hourslong test of endurance — a marathon day of technical testimony, esoteric expert witnesses and a handful of others who just happened to be inside the Wesley Chapel movie theater where the retired Tampa police captain shot and killed another man and injured the man’s wife.

Reeves’ long-awaited jury trial has captured worldwide attention, coming more than eight years after the Jan. 13, 2014, showing of Lone Survivor where Reeves met and killed Chad Oulson, a 43-year-old father from Land O’ Lakes, following an argument over Oulson scrolling on his cellphone during the movie’s previews.

Both men had their wives at their side that day, and both women have testified in a Dade City courtroom during Reeves’ trial, now in its third week.

Related: Curtis Reeves trial: Oulson’s widow testifies in Pasco movie theater shooting case

After a failed 2017 attempt to gain immunity under Florida’s controversial “stand your ground” law, Reeves now faces charges of aggravated battery and second-degree murder. If convicted, the now 79-year-old could face life in prison. Even the most lenient sentence offered by Florida law is a minimum of 25 years behind bars.

Tuesday marked the seventh day of witness testimony in the case, and the third day of hearing from those chosen by Reeves’ defense team — led by attorneys Rick Escobar and Dino Michaels.

Related: Curtis Reeves trial: Defendant’s wife describes shooting at Pasco theater

Yet unlike many of the emotional accounts that have colored the trial thus far, the seven witnesses called before Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Susan Barthle’s courtroom Tuesday were there to talk facts.

The day began with nearly two additional hours of testimony from forensic audio/video investigator Bruce Koenig, a retired FBI analyst and widely recognized expert who was hired by Escobar’s team back in 2014 to examine and enhance the grainy surveillance footage captured on cameras inside The Grove 16 theater — then called The Cobb Theater — the day of the shooting. On Monday, Koenig closed out the day’s testimony with about five hours of explanations and in-depth lessons about how he tried to enhance, enlarge and sharpen the images captured by the cameras that day.

The video provides a slight, partial view of Curtis Reeves and his wife during the altercation with Oulson that led to Reeves shooting Oulson. Ultimately, though, many of the objects the attorneys had hoped to identify in the footage remain a mystery.

“Unfortunately, I don’t have magic eyes,” Koenig said.

The court then heard from two Pasco County sheriff’s deputies who responded to the theater after a call went out about a possible mass shooting, but arrived to find the theater already swarming with officers who, according to the deputies’ testimony, seemed disorganized. Investigators failed to collect or even view the security footage at the theater, and they seemingly neglected to instruct witnesses not to discuss what they saw and to remain separated from each other while writing down their version of events for investigators.

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Jurors also heard from Joanna Turner, who was sitting in the same row as Reeves when the shooting took place. Turner, who was there with her ex-husband, said she initially thought Reeves and Oulson were friends. She said she watched Oulson make a “throwing motion” with his hand, which appeared to be holding a dark object — but not an iPhone, as the defense has suggested. Despite seeing Oulson’s arm move, though, she said she couldn’t recall ever seeing or hearing Reeves get hit. They also heard from Dawn Michelle Simpson, the woman who was at the guest services desk requesting movie posters for her daughter’s bedroom when Reeves walked up to report Oulson’s cellphone use.

And before the day closed out with testimony from yet another forensic medical expert — Vernard Adams, a former medical examiner for Hillsborough County — the jury heard from the man in charge of the theater the afternoon Oulson was killed: The Cobb Theater’s general manager, Thomas Peck.

It was a Monday afternoon, and business had been fairly slow the day that Reeves sought out Peck at the customer service desk.

Peck said he can’t remember exactly what was said during his short conversation with Reeves at the customer service desk, but if the man had been belligerent, nervous or upset he would have remembered.

He didn’t give the conversation much thought, he said, until, moments later, someone came running out of Theater 10 yelling, “He shot him! He shot him!”

When he tried to call 911 from the desk phone it just kept ringing, he said. So he hung up and used his cellphone, eventually connecting with a dispatcher as he rushed to help calm frightened customers.

Only 12 to 15 people were working in the movie theater that day, and all had swarmed to pass out glasses of water and help those who witnessed the shooting find a place to sit and process what they had seen.

“There was a lot going on, and a lot of emotion all at once,” Peck told the court. Corporate quickly told him not to get involved, but he told attorneys on Tuesday that, had anyone asked to see the surveillance footage that day, he would have shared it. He also would have gladly talked to detectives about his interactions with Reeves — but no one asked in the moments after the shooting, and no one called in the days that followed.

One thing he did remember from that day, though, was when he was inside the theater and the 911 operator asked him if he could see the gun. By that time, Reeves had given it to an off-duty police officer who happened to be sitting nearby. Peck said something like “the weapon has been obtained and the assailant is still here.”

He remembers Reeves then blurted out a response: “He said ‘Don’t call me bad’ or ‘I’m not the bad guy.’ ”

Barthle has set aside the month of February to hear testimony in the case. Then, it will be up to a six-member jury to decide Reeves’ fate. The trial resumes tomorrow at 8:30 a.m.

Catch up here on the trial so far, in reverse order: Monday, Friday, Thursday, Wednesday, Tuesday and Feb. 14. Read the full background on the case here.

Our reporter, Anastasia Dawson, is reporting live from the trial at the Robert D. Sumner Judicial Center in Dade City. Her tweets appear below.