Hours after a jury found him not guilty of murder, Curtis Reeves returned home and with a screwdriver removed the electronic monitor that had constantly monitored his movements for nearly eight years. A day later, he readied to walk his daughter down the aisle at her wedding.
It was an outcome that to some may have seemed unlikely just weeks ago when Reeves remained accused of shooting Chad Oulson in a darkened Wesley Chapel movie theater.
A second-degree murder charge, and a deluge of public interest, had loomed over the retired Tampa police captain for nearly a decade. Through it all, though, Reeves remained confident that he ultimately would be cleared, that a jury of his fellow citizens would understand his claim of self-defense.
“The interesting thing about Curtis is he never lost hope in our system of justice,” Tampa attorney Richard Escobar, who led Reeves’ defense, said Saturday. “It was super powerful for us to see. He always felt like we could put this together and win this case.”
It’s why, Escobar said, Reeves showed a scarce expression of emotion late Friday night as a court clerk read a jury’s decision: not guilty of second-degree murder, and not guilty of aggravated battery.
But his freedom wasn’t free. In the eight years that the high-profile, closely watched case wound through the legal system, Reeves’ costs stacked up to about $1 million.
Escobar said his firm spent almost $200,000 in deposition transcripts for the case’s 135 witnesses.
“I would venture to say that this is the largest self-defense case ever in Florida,” he said.
It was the highest-profile case Escobar’s firm has handled, he said. Reeves also is set for an exclusive interview with Good Morning America.
Beyond that, his plans are for he and his wife to enjoy their golden years.
“They want to travel, enjoy their retirement,” Escobar said. “They want to continue to be active.”
Oulson’s widow, Nicole, remains distraught, her attorney, T.J. Grimaldi, said Saturday.
“To say she’s disappointed, upset, angry, frustrated, those are all understatements,” Grimaldi said.
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She has had to learn to live without her husband in that time. Grimaldi said the verdict is a type of closure, but the reality of the decision has resurfaced old emotions.
Grimaldi called the verdict a travesty. But he added any time a case goes to a jury, it is always a gamble.
“Obviously, we hoped this would never occur, but we did understand that it could,” he said.
Despite the challenges, Grimaldi said he believed the Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney’s Office did an excellent job with the case. He was more critical of the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office investigation.
“I think that the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office actually did a horrible job,” Grimaldi said. Still, he believes there was enough evidence between witness testimony and video from the theater to convict Reeves.
Grimaldi settled a civil case against Reeves, on behalf of Nicole, in 2015. The details of the settlement are confidential. Last January, another civil settlement was reached against the theater.
He doesn’t believe that when the “stand-your-ground” legislation was enacted, it was intended to apply to this type of situation.
“When stand-your-ground self-defense was enacted, I cannot imagine that the legislature intended for it to cover a situation like this,” Grimaldi said. “And it really scares me what is going to be able to be overcome in the future.”
Escobar, the defense attorney, takes a different view. He believes the law was designed to protect people just like Reeves.
The vast majority of the public, they don’t understand how this law is applied,” Escobar said. “They don’t understand the danger someone is perceiving doesn’t even have to be actual. As long as the perception of the shooter is that he reasonably feared for his life, the law protects you. … There’s a lot of wisdom in this law. That’s the reason we were confident.”
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism