DADE CITY — It took more than eight years to bring the man who killed Chad Oulson to trial.
But on Tuesday morning, witnesses told a Dade City courtroom how his death in a Wesley Chapel movie theater transpired in just seconds.
A handful of moviegoers who saw the events play out inside The Grove 16′s Theater 10 on Jan. 13, 2014, were the first called to the witness stand during the second day of testimony in retired Tampa police Capt. Curtis Reeves’ high-profile murder trial.
After six months in jail following his arrest, Reeves, now 79, has been out on bail, living under house arrest. After a failed attempt to claim immunity under Florida’s “stand your ground” law in 2017, Reeves trial on charges of second-degree murder and aggravated battery began with jury selection last week.
Should he be found guilty, Reeves faces up to life in prison. State law specifies a minimum of 25 years in prison for the crime, but for a man nearing 80 years old, that, too, is likely a life sentence.
The trial began Monday with emotional testimony from Nicole Oulson, the widow of the 43-year-old father from Land O’ Lakes. Reeves had told Chad Oulson to put his cell phone away when previews began rolling at the start of a matinee showing of the Mark Wahlberg film Lone Survivor.
Nicole Oulson was sitting beside her husband during the altercation. And when Reeves suddenly grabbed his .380 caliber handgun and fired, the bullet nearly severed her left ring finger on its way into her husband’s chest.
On Tuesday, other witnesses who were in the theater that afternoon took the stand. The witnesses stuck to their accounts – even when the defense team challenged them.
First came Charles Cummings, an older man who went to the movies with his son, Alexander, and chose seats at the end of the last row in the theater – the same row where Reeves and his wife were seated near the middle.
On the other end was now-retired Sumter County Sheriff’s Deputy Alan Hamilton and his wife, Angela.
Both the Hamiltons and Cummings remembered seeing the glow of Oulson’s cell phone as advertisements played across the screen.
Cummings said it didn’t bother him. Everyone was chatting amongst themselves. Then, an advertisement asking patrons to turn off their phones began and, almost immediately, Hamilton saw Reeves bend down between Chad Oulson and his wife.
Cummings couldn’t make out what was said, but heard Oulson reply he was “texting his daughter’s babysitter.” Allan Hamilton recalled an “F bomb” included in that statement.
Those who testified Tuesday said Chad Oulson didn’t seem mad. If anything, he seemed exasperated or annoyed, Cummings told the court.
Then Reeves stood up and left the theater, grumbling to himself as he shuffled between seats and legs in the tightly packed rows, Cummings said.
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Reeves didn’t seem feeble or suffering from poor health as he exited the theater and returned a few minutes later, taking his seat next to his wife, Cummings said.
When he came back, Hamilton said Oulson stood up and turned around, saying something to Reeves like “Are you trying to get me kicked out?”
The next thing Cummings remembered was popcorn in the air, a flash and a bang.
He remembered hearing Reeves say something like “throw popcorn in my face” or “throw popcorn at me.” Then, all he could hear was Nicole Oulson screaming and weeping. He didn’t know what had happened until he heard Chad Oulson say “I can’t believe he shot me” while stumbling toward the end of the row where Cummings was seated.
After a few steps, Chad Oulson collapsed in the aisle, his body hitting Cummings’ son on the way down and his head resting on Cummings’ foot.
Cummings ordered his son to leave the theater and call 911 while he tried to perform CPR on Oulson. Eventually others, including Reeves’ son, Tampa police Officer Matthew Reeves, came to help him with chest compressions, though blood was pouring from a hole in Chad Oulson’s chest.
Alan Hamilton said he rushed toward Reeves, who was sitting back in his seat with his gun on his knee. Reeves’ wife moved away from him when he fired, witnesses said, and shortly after Hamilton got to his seat she left the theater.
Hamilton told Reeves he was an off-duty deputy and took his weapon, putting it in his back pocket until handing it over to Pasco County Sheriff’s deputies when they arrived 15 to 20 minutes later.
Witness Jane Roy told a similar story, though defense attorneys were quick to point out that complications from past brain tumors have severely damaged her vision and hearing on her left side.
Roy and her husband were sitting to the left of Reeves and his wife.
Roy said Reeves seemed to be the only angry one during the confrontation, and that Oulson never climbed over his seat or raised his hand as if to strike.
“He stood up quickly,” Roy said of the moment Reeves left to find a theater manager to complain about Chad Oulson’s cell phone use. “He had a frown on his face when he was passing in front of me, he was mumbling, and if you think of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, he looked like Grumpy. That’s what he looked like to me.”
After Reeves returned, she heard the same statements as Cummings and Hamilton, then saw the popcorn fly into the air and, almost simultaneously, saw the red flash bang of Reeves’ gun.
“The popcorn didn’t have time to come down before his (Reeves’) arm came up,” with the gun and the shot was fired, Roy said.
Testimony continues at 8:30 a.m. Wednesday.
Here are highlights from their testimony from our reporter in the courtroom. This post will be updated throughout the day.