Lawyers for a retired Florida police captain accused of a 2014 murder at a Tampa-area movie theater are mounting a defense based on the state's high-profile "stand your ground" law.
Curtis Reeves, 79, is currently standing trial, accused of second-degree murder in the January 2014 shooting death of Chad Oulson at a Wesley Chapel theater.
Both the prosecution and defense agree that the incident began as an argument about Oulson's use of a cell phone during a movie. Reeves eventually got out of his seat to notify a manager, prompting Oulson to throw a bag of popcorn at Reeves.
That's when Reeves took out a firearm and shot Oulson in the chest, killing him.
Prosecutors claim that Reeves's violent reaction was an unlawful killing "without any premeditated design," which would constitute second-degree murder.
However, Reeves' lawyers say that his use of deadly force was lawful given the state's "stand your ground law."
The law, passed in 2005, eliminated a person's "duty to retreat" before responding with deadly force. The law has played a key role in several high-profile legal cases throughout the years, including the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin.
"That's one of the things the jury has to look at is whether deadly force was really necessary here," said Jeff Swartz, a legal analyst for Scripps station WFTS in Tampa.
According to The Washington Post, Reeves' defense attorneys argue that he felt genuinely threatened, given his advanced age and Oulsen's aggressive behavior. Reeves' lawyers also allege he was "punched or hit" with Oulsen's cellphone before the shooting, something prosecutors deny.
"I know Mr. Escobar [Reeve's attorney] is already teeing people up to the idea that his client is a feeble old man that was set upon by a strong strapping 35-year-old, and in fact, he was the victim of a felony committed by Oulson," Swartz said. "He's going to allege that this is a battery or assault of an elderly person, which is a felony in the state of Florida, that justified his use of deadly force."
WFTS also reports that Reeves had aggressive run-ins with other patrons at movie theaters in the area before the shooting. However, those who had previous run-ins with Reeves will not testify at trial.
The trial, which entered its sixth day of testimony on Monday, was delayed for several years by legal motions, appeals, and the COVID-19 pandemic. Reeves has spent much of the last eight years on house arrest.
If convicted of murder charges, Reeves could face between 25 years to life in prison, according to The Tampa Bay Times.