Curtis Reeves murder trial: Jury begins deliberation late Friday

After nine days of testimony nearly nine hours of closing arguments Friday in the trial of Curtis Reeves, the jury has begun deliberations.

Ultimately, the jurors selected for this case have to answer one big question: whether they believe Reeves acted in self-defense when he shot a man inside a Wesley Chapel movie theater on Jan. 13, 2014.

Reeves was charged with second-degree murder and aggravated battery, however, Judge Susan Barthle told the jury they could find him guilty of a range of lesser charges including manslaughter, justifiable homicide, or excusable homicide.

Jury instructions 

In order to find Reeves guilty of second-degree murder, the state must prove two elements beyond a reasonable doubt: 

  • Chad Oulson is dead.
  • Curtis Reeves intentionally committed an act or acts that caused the death of Chad Oulson, or the death of Chad Oulson was caused by the culpable negligence of Curtis Reeves.

Judge Barthle first described negligence, reading from the jury instructions.

"Every person has a duty to act reasonably toward others. If there is a violation of that duty without an intention to harm, that violation is negligence… The defendant cannot be guilty of manslaughter by committing a merely negligent act or if the killing was either justifiable or excusable homicide." 

Culpable negligence is a higher bar, the judge explained, saying culpable negligence is "gross and flagrant… showing reckless disregard for human life."

It is not necessary for the prosecution to have proved Reeves intended to kill Oulson.

Justifiable and excusable homicide 

Justifiable homicide and excusable homicide are lawful, Judge Barthle said.

Justifiable homicide was defined as being "if necessarily done while resisting an attempt to murder or commit a felony upon the defendant or to commit a felony within a house or dwelling in which the defendant was at the time of the killing."

In other words, the killing of Oulson would be justifiable homicide if it was done while Oulson was trying to kill Reeves.

Excusable homicide, Judge Barthle said, is lawful under three circumstances: 

  • When the killing is committed by accident and misfortune in doing any lawful act, by lawful means with usual and ordinary caution and without any unlawful intent
  • When the killing occurs by accident and misfortune in the heat of passion upon any sudden and sufficient provocation
  • When the killing occurs by accident and misfortune resulting from a sudden combat if a dangerous weapon is not used and the killing is not done in a cruel or unusual manner

Dangerous weapon

A dangerous weapon was described as any object that will likely cause death or great bodily harm if used in the ordinary and usual manner contemplated by its design and construction. 

An object not designed to cause bodily harm may nonetheless be a dangerous weapon if it was used in a manner to cause death and great bodily harm.

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The object in question will be Chad Oulson's cellphone, which was the topic of many debates; whether it was thrown at Reeves, whether it hit Reeves in the face, and whether it could have been enough to make Reeves think his life was in danger.

Defendant's testimony

Curtis Reeves took the stand in his own defense Thursday to describe – in his own words – what happened before, during, and in the eight years after the shooting at a Wesley Chapel movie theater in 2014 that killed Chad Oulson.

It was the first time the jury heard from the 79-year-old former Tampa police captain during his trial. 

Reeves spent hours recounting the day of the shooting to the jury, describing Oulson as angry and aggressive after he had asked Oulson to put away his cellphone while the previews played before the feature film.

When Reeves said he asked Oulson to turn his phone off, he said Oulson responded angrily.

"I noticed he was standing up, he was yelling a lot of profanities, threats ‘who the "F" do you think you are? I was texting my "F" daughter. The F-word seem to be his primary vocabulary at that point," Reeves said.

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After alerting the theater manager, Reeves returned to his seat and said that’s when things escalated.

Reeves said he told Oulson, "If I had known you had put your phone away, I wouldn't have involved the manager."

Reeves said Oulson stood and then he saw a flash.

"I think I was hit on my glasses, the top left side, that’s where I felt the impact, I think. It was like a flash. It was between me and the screen, it was very, very close to me," he said.

Reeves now believes Oulson threw the cellphone, but under cross-examination, prosecutor Scott Rosenwasser said that white flash was actually a reflection from Reeves’ shoe and tried to point it out in the theater video, playing on a large screen facing the Jury.

"You're moving forward, the reflection is your right leg going down," said Rosenwasser.

"I don’t know, sir," replied Reeves.

Reeves told the jury it was never his intention to shoot Oulson or anyone that day.

"I came to the theater with my family to enjoy a movie. Not to be attacked by some guy that’s out of control," Reeves said.

Reeves said the encounter reached a point where he felt that he had no other choice but to reach for his pistol, and shoot him.

"I noticed he was standing up," Reeves recalled. "He was yelling a lot of profanities…he was trying to come over the seat – either that or get to me. I’ve never been in that kind of position before. When he stood up, I’m sitting down in a completely defenseless position. I’m looking up at this guy, and he is looking like a monster. He exhibited explosive behavior, both verbally and physically. I had seen his wife try to control him."

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"He was a threat," he added. "He was a threat who was very close to me."

Reeves went on to say he felt trapped, leaning to the side and away from Oulson.

"At some point, I made the decision, I had no alternative," Reeves explained. "In my opinion, he is completely out of control. He is not settling down."

While Reeves claims it was a self-defense, prosecutors have spent the last week and a half rebutting that claim.

On Wednesday, after a video testimony was played detailing that Reeves was frail and had arthritis, prosecutors pointed out that the expert making these claims had never treated or evaluated Reeves and was making general assumptions.