Witnesses of Florida theater killing recall flying popcorn, gunshot at bail hearing
By Greg Botelho, CNN
Curtis Reeves and the widow of the man he killed inside a movie theater both shed tears Wednesday inside a Florida courtroom, as lawyers for both sides called witnesses to support their arguments on whether the 71-year-old gunman should get bail.
Along with such raw emotion, the Dade City hearing was flush with vivid details from witnesses about what happened early in the afternoon of January 13 inside a theater in the Tampa suburb of Wesley Chapel.
They recounted how, after Reeves told management about Chad Oulson texting during previews, the men exchanged words. Oulson then allegedly tossed his bag of popcorn at Reeves, who fired a single, fatal gunshot moments later.
He's been jailed ever since, without bail, on a second-degree murder charge.
Wednesday's testimony and the cross-examinations were so extensive that the day ended without a decision from Judge Pat Siracusa. Instead, the hearing will resume at 10 a.m. Friday with testimony from more prosecution witnesses and the playing of surveillance video and audio.
Several people testified Wednesday as character witnesses for Reeves.
The most powerful of them was his daughter, Jennifer Shaw.
In addition to discussing her father's financial holdings -- including a house valued at $186,000 as well as $22,000 in bank accounts -- Shaw spoke of how her father had always been involved and supportive. That includes helping with her 2-year-old daughter and after she moved in with her parents after splitting from her husband.
Shaw said she didn't recall her father -- who became visibly emotional with his daughter on the stand -- getting angry with strangers, said his temperament hasn't changed in recent years and insisted that he doesn't pose a danger to the community.
And after being asked whether she had any doubt her father would show up for court if he received bail, Shaw answered unequivocally: "No doubt at all."
Shaw said she'd long "assumed" that her father, a Navy veteran and retired police officer with a concealed weapons permit, carried a gun with him at all times. But should he come to the family's Brooksville home, there would be no guns around: Shaw testified that all firearms and ammunition in that house were removed the day after the theater shooting.
The prosecution then began presenting its own slate of witnesses, starting with 68-year-old Charles Cummings.
He sat a few seats down from Oulson that January day in the row in front of Reeves. During the previews, Cummings said he heard Reeves and Oulson talking, and at one point, the latter said, "I'm just texting my 2-year-old daughter."
Soon after that, a "very agitated" Reeves left the theater then returned a few minutes later and again addressed Oulson.
Moviegoers recounted what happened next.
Mark Douglas Turner -- who spent 27 years in the Air Force, including time as a clandestine officer who worked in China -- recalled a relatively calm Oulson saying, "Do you mind, I've got a voice mail from my daughter's babysitter? Do you mind I check to see if my daughter's alright?"
The atmosphere changed considerably soon after that. While witnesses did not recount what Reeves said, Cummings said that, whatever it was, "I felt Oulson had enough."
Alan Hamilton, a corporal with the Sumter County sheriff's office who was taking in a movie with his wife, said he heard Oulson saying, at one point, "I am trying to text my f**king daughter, if you don't mind" -- using graphic language that Reeves' lawyer said suggested Oulson was angry and threatening.
The popcorn flew in Reeves' direction soon thereafter.
"And almost immediately," recalled Turner, who said Oulson threw the bag, "the gun comes out and there are shots fired."
Oulson then stumbled and said, "I can't believe he shot me," before falling on Cummings' son, the witness recalled. A nurse who also happened to be in theater then testified -- as Oulson's widow, Nicole, wiped away tears -- about unsuccessful efforts to save his life.
According to Turner, Reeves said, "Throw popcorn in my face."
Hamilton said that right after the shooting, he acted quickly to take the gun from Reeves -- who was sitting, as he'd been during the shooting -- and subdue him.
Before more authorities arrived, Reeves' wife told her husband "that was no cause to shoot anyone," according to Hamilton, the law enforcement officer who was then off-duty.
Reeves responded by pointing his finger at her and saying, according to Hamilton, "You shut your f**king mouth and don't say another word."
The off-duty corporal said that at one point, Reeves pushed back his glasses and said out loud, "Holy f**k, what have I done?"
Defense attorney Richard Escobar challenged each of these prosecution witnesses. For some, he said their recollections may be cloudy due to witnesses' vantage points, eyesight or the theater's dim lighting. Escobar also sought to portray the larger, younger Oulson as imposing compared to Reeves.
His client, Reeves, remains behind bars pending the outcome of this hearing.