TAMPA, Fla. — Eight years after the shooting and nine days after the start of the trial, jurors took a little over three hours to reach a verdict.
Friday night, Curtis Reeves, 79 was acquitted of all charges in the shooting death of Chad Oulson, 43. Reeves was a retired Tampa police captain when he shot and killed Oulson during an argument about texting in a movie theater.
His defense team proved at the time of the shooting, Reeves reasonably feared for his life when the much younger Oulson stood up and turned around to face him, eventually tossing popcorn onto Reeves. Reeves' attorneys convinced a jury that Oulson tried to attack Reeves.
Now days after the verdict, some legal experts believe the case will go down in "stand your ground" history.
“If you’re going to talk about the evolution of stand-your-ground laws, this is definitely going to be one of those cases you have to mention,” said Janae Thomas, a Tampa attorney, and former state prosecutor.
“That’s where our society has been headed, so we’re not really that surprised but the verdict,” Thomas said.
She believes Reeves’s acquittal will set a new precedence for future stand-your-ground cases and gun violence.
“I think there’s going to be more gun violence because people are now thinking they are justified when they are doing the actions and stand your ground says you don’t have to think twice about it. So they’ll be pulling the trigger and not thinking twice about it,” she said.
First adopted in Florida back in 2005, stand-your-ground laws have spread to more than 30 states across the country.
In Florida, the law has steadily expanded to a point where it is now considered among the strongest nationwide but it continues to fuel controversy. Opponents say it encourages gun violence while supporters maintain it makes the public safer by deterring would-be attackers.
One recent study released last week found stand-your-ground laws were linked to an 11% rise in homicides across the country, with even bigger jumps in southern states including Florida.
But Reeves’s attorneys don’t believe there’s a correlation and said their client’s acquittal is a reflection of a law that did just what is was intended to do.
“Do I think this is the case that goes down in history no, but I think it will open peoples’ eyes to realizing there’s a lot of good in this law that needs to stay around,” said Reeves’s defense attorney Rick Escobar. “Those that attack other individuals, they need to understand that those they are attacking may have vulnerabilities they need to protect and it may result in someone defending themselves and the taking of life,” he said.
Escobar and his law partner, Dino Michaels, hope their client’s case also serves as a wake-up call about the need to respect the elderly. “If Mr. Reeves was much younger, Oulson would never have attacked him,” Escobar said.
When asked how this case will script human behavior in the future, Escobar said “there’s a fine line that we need to be careful about. We certainly don’t want people out there to be shooting other individuals just because they can. We want individuals to be responsible with firearms and we want them to shoot someone if they need to as a last resort because they’re defending themselves.”
“I think we’re seeing people move more from the flight and avoiding danger to the fight aspect of it and that’s why we’re seeing an increase in violence and an increase in gun violence in our society. I think people are feeling emboldened to use that fight instead of flight,” Janae Thomas said.