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Florida man pleads not guilty to fatal theater shooting over texting

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[February 06, 2014]  By Kenneth Knight

DADE CITY, Florida (Reuters) A retired Florida police captain accused of fatally shooting a man in a movie theater after a texting confrontation last month pleaded not guilty Wednesday at a daylong bail hearing that resembled a mini-trial.

Curtis Reeves Jr., 71, is charged with second-degree murder and aggravated battery in the shooting death of Chad Oulson, 43, in Wesley Chapel, north of Tampa.

Oulson died January 13 after an argument with Reeves over Oulson's use of a cellphone to text his 2-year-old daughter's baby sitter, Pasco County sheriff's deputies said.

On Wednesday, Circuit Court Judge Pat Siracusa tried unsuccessful to complete a bond hearing to decide whether Reeves would remain in the Pasco County Jail, where he has been since the shooting.

Lengthy testimony by eyewitnesses to the shooting and family and friends of the defendant forced the judge Wednesday evening to postpone a decision until the next hearing set for Friday.

Reeves' daughter and family friends who spoke on Reeves' behalf described him as an honest and honorable man who deserved to be released from jail.

Reeves, who is from Brooksville, removed his glasses and wiped away tears when his daughter, Jennifer Shaw, made emotional testimony, offering to turn over his passport to the court. She said her father is a religious man, doting grandfather and a pillar of society who takes care of his 93-year-old mother.

Reeves attorney Richard Escobar said his client should be released because any action he took was to defend himself.

The incident occurred during the previews at a matinee showing of the combat drama "Lone Survivor" at the Cobb Grove Theatre complex.

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Four witnesses called by prosecutors to testify said Reeves shot Oulson, from nearby Land O'Lakes, in the chest with a .380-caliber pistol after Oulson threw popcorn at him.

Assistant State Attorney Manny Garcia said Reeves should remain in jail without bail, adding that Oulson did not strike or touch Reeves during the altercation.

Siracusa said he would allow surveillance video recorded inside the theater at the time of the shooting to be shown in court.

The judge agreed to seal all evidence in court files for 30 days to give Reeves' attorneys time to review it and decide whether to challenge it.

Siracusa said he looked at the video 15 times and found the images grainy, blurry and difficult to see.

(Editing by David Adams; editing by Lisa Shumaker)

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