TAMPA (FOX 13) - A retired Tampa police captain accused of killing a man in a movie theater could get another chance to walk free following a major change to the Florida Stand Your Ground law, legal experts said Wednesday.
Curtis Reeves, now 75, shot and killed Chad Oulson, 43, during an argument over Oulson using a cell phone in a Wesley Chapel movie theater in 2014.
Reeves claimed he was standing his ground and defending himself, but a judge ruled last year the Stand Your Ground law did not apply in this case.
With the case in the appeals process, the Florida Legislature changed the law last June. For years, defendants like Reeves would have to convince a judge that Stand Your Ground applies in their cases and they could walk free without a trial.
"The legislature shifted the burden," Tampa attorney and legal expert Anthony Rickman said, referring to the decision to change to law last summer. "They required now the state of Florida to prove by clear and convincing evidence that the defendant did not have the right to defend himself."
Last week, an appellate judge ruled the change in the law should be applied retroactively to cases that are pending, which include Reeves.'
Rickman expects Reeves to get a brand new Stand Your Ground hearing.
"Since such a fundamental part of a case changed, he's entitled to a new hearing. Not just a rehashing of that prior hearing," Rickman said. "What will happen is is that you'll have a new hearing. That new hearing is going to be long. That new hearing is going to have a lot of witnesses."
During the two-week hearing last year, Reeves' attorneys argued the then-71-year-old man feared for his life when he shot and killed Oulson. The defense said Oulson threw his cell phone at Reeves, hitting him in the face and, when Oulson lunged at Reeves, grabbed his popcorn and threw it back in Reeves' face, the former officer thought he was under attack, so he fired.
The state, however, argued there is no way to prove a cell phone hit Reeves in the face by looking at the grainy theater surveillance video. Prosecutors portrayed Reeves as a man who shot his weapon solely in retaliation and not out of fear.
Judge Susan Barthle took a week release her decision, siding with the prosecution. If Reeves gets a second hearing, it will once again be in front of Judge Barthle.
"Truthfully, I was shocked. Rarely to laws come down and they apply retroactively," said T.J. Grimaldi, an attorney for Oulson's widow, Nicole Oulson. "In something like this, which is such a significant change in how you bring the Stand Your Ground motion before a court in Florida, I was amazed that they would make this decision."
Grimaldi believes it would be a waste of time to have another Stand Your Ground hearing.
"They didn't pull punches. They treated this like a trial," he said. "I just think it would just be a mirror image and literally a second bite of the apple for the defense because now they're reactionary and now they can also see what they may have lacked in before and they can change their tune, their testimony a little bit."
Grimaldi believes the Florida Supreme Court may ultimately decide how to proceed.
FOX 13 contacted Reeves' attorney, Richard Escobar, but he was unavailable for comment.