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Posted on February 22, 2022 by in Uncategorized

“Popcorn Murder” Trial Coverage by Andrew Branca Day 6

The opinions and statements made in this article are solely those of Andrew Branca and do not represent any position or opinion of CCW Safe. We chose to share this content in order to provide some insight to the trial process. 

Popcorn Shooter Trial Day 6:  Video Consistent with Apparent Lawful Self-Defense

Yesterday was the sixth day of testimony in the murder trial of Curtis Reeves, the retired Tampa SWAT Captain who shot and killed Chad Oulson in a local movie theater in January 2014 after the two men had a verbal altercation that became physical.  

The defense presented an additional three witnesses throughout the day. Two of those—Vivian Reeves, the wife of Curtis Reeves, and Dr. Donna Cohen, an expert on aging—were frankly of limited interest, for reasons I’ll discuss below.  

The final witness of the day, Bruce E. Koenig, provided testimony that is perhaps best described as tiresome—it did, however, present a view of the movie theater surveillance video that is strongly consistent with the defense narrative that defendant Curtis Reeves shot and killed Chad Oulson under circumstances consistent with lawful self-defense.  

The enhanced, slowed, and zoomed version shown in court yesterday was difficult to make out on the court’s live stream, but I share a zoomed and annotated version of my own creation of that video below, for illustrative purposes.

The video testimony of all three of these witnesses is also embedded below. 

Live-Stream Commentary & Analysis of Today’s Proceedings!

Also, I’ll once again be doing live stream analysis and commentary over at Rekieta Law’s YouTube channel.  You’ll be able to find today’s live show for the seventh day of this trial at:

Competing Narratives of Guilt and Innocence

It’s perhaps worth taking a moment to refresh our recollection of the competing narratives of guilt and innocence in this trial. This is how I described them in my coverage :

State Narrative of Guilt

The State’s narrative is essentially that Curtis Reeves shot and killed Chad Oulson out of malice when Oulson acted disrespectfully to the retired police officer, cursing at him in the open theater in front of Reeves’ wife and others, after Reeves triggered (the State is attempting to misleading argue “provoked”) the confrontation by complaining about Oulson’s cell phone use in the theater as Oulson was seated immediately in front of Reeves.

The verbal confrontation escalated to the physical, according to the State, when Oulson seized Reeves’ popcorn from  his hands, and “flicked” it back at Reeves.  At that point Reeves drew a .380-caliber Kel-Tec pistol and fired the single round that would penetrate Nicole Oulson’s hand and strike Chad Oulson fatally in the chest.

The State has attacked the defense claim of self-defense on essentially every element with varying degrees of credibility, including attacking the element of Innocence on the grounds that it was Reeves who “triggered” the confrontation by initiating “contact” (mere verbal contact) with Oulson; attacking Imminence on the grounds that whatever threat Oulson may have posed was already over when the shot was fired; attacking Proportionality on the grounds that whatever threat Oulson may have posed was unlikely to have inflicted death or grave bodily harm; and attacking Reasonableness on the grounds that even if Reeves had a genuine, good faith, subjective perception of a grave bodily harm attack, that perception was objectively unreasonable.  The element of Avoidance is generally off the table as a target of attack on the facts of this case given Florida’s stand-your-ground status.  (Get our FREE infographic, “Five Elements of Self-Defense Law” infographic here.)

Defense Narrative of Self-Defense

The defense narrative is that Curtis Reeves shot and killed Chad Oulson in self-defense after Oulson engaged in physical aggression that was reasonably perceived by Reeves as using and threatening imminent force reasonably likely to inflict grave bodily injury upon him.

Prior to seizing Reeves’ popcorn, according to the defense, the 6’ 4” 43-year-old Oulson had hurled angry “F-bombs, turned in his seat, stood up, and leaned aggressively over the then 71-year-old in frail health, forcibly struck Reeves in the temple with a hard object, then continued to throw his hands at Reeves in the process of seizing and hurling his popcorn.  The defense is placing particular weight on their claims of Reeves’ purportedly frail health and therefore exceptional vulnerability to grave bodily harm at the hands of the hands of the much younger and very large attacking Chad Oulson.

Indeed, so aggressive was Chad Oulson’s conduct that his own wife Nicole placed her hand on his chest to restrain him. So it was that the single shot fired by Reeves in self-defense passed through her hand and into her husband’s chest, with fatal result.

Bruce E. Koenig, Video Forensic Consultant

I’ll start with the final witness of the day, Bruce Koenig, video forensic consultant, because his testimony touches on perhaps the most vital physical evidence in this trial relative to self-defense.

The actual testimony of Koenig can only be described as tiresome.  Roughly 90 minutes of the start of his testimony involved the defense going over a lengthy recitation of his background, credentials, and qualifications.  And understandably so—Koenig is almost shockingly qualified as a video forensic consultant.  Rather than recite that detail here, I’ll simply embed his 11-page CV—or, you can watch it all for 90 minutes on the video embedded below:  

The second half of Koenig’s testimony was a more substantive presentation of enhanced, enlarged, and zoomed versions of the surveillance video captured from inside the theater during the confrontation and shooting at the center of this case.  

Unfortunately, the manner in which this video was shown on live stream—with the courtroom camera at a sharp angle to the highly-reflective big-screen television used to present the video the jury—made it all but impossible to make out much of anything from my own perspective.  

I have requested a copy of this video file for this evidence from the Reeves’ defense team, but have not yet heard back—understandably enough, given that they are neck-deep in a trial fighting for their client’s life.  If I do obtain a copy of that video file, I’ll be sure to share it with all of you in the Law of Self Defense community.

What I do have, however, is a zoomed and annotated version of the theater surveillance video of my own creation.  I’m certainly no video forensic expert, but I believe the version I’ve created captures the essence of what the defense is attempting to do with Koenig’s prepared video.  I’ll share that in a moment.

Importantly, Koenig was not permitted to testify as to what can be seen in the video.  He is not, for example, permitted to testify “and that’s when the punch occurred.”  He can only show the video to the jury, and then it’s up to the jury to decide what the video shows them.  

While this is a perfectly correct approach by the court to presenting the Koenig video to the jury, it unfortunately also made the second half of Koenig’s testimony nearly as interminable as the first half, as he simply played a series of silent, hard to view (from my perspective) videos without substantive commentary. 

LOSD Zoomed & Annotated Surveillance Video

So, here’s the video I’ve prepared myself, essentially just a zoomed and annotated version of the right-side theater surveillance video.  Specifically, I’ve zoomed in on the bottom right corner of the original video, which is where the action between Reeves and Oulson takes place—I’ve also included only the few seconds of the original video that captures the final confrontation between the two men.  My annotation consists of characterizations of that action along with time stamps.

What I perceive happening in this video clip is an apparent strike by Chad Oulson upon Curtis Reeves at time-stamp 13:26:25, a roughly 10-second delay, then Oulson reaching back again to grab Reeves’ popcorn, pull it back, then hurl it back at Reeves with another forward movement of his arm towards Reeves.  Within a second of this second battery upon Reeves by Oulson, Reeves fires the fatal shot that passes through the restraining (?) hand of Nicole Oulson and into Chad Oulson’s chest. 

Here’s that zoomed and annotated video clip:

Remember that in a criminal trial the defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, and further than in a self-defense case the State is obliged to disprove self-defense beyond a reasonable doubt.  

That means that if the evidence supports even merely a reasonable doubt that the defendant’s use-of-force could have been legally justified, the jury is instructed to acquit the defendant rather than find the defendant guilty.

This video strikes me as entirely consistent with Reeves’ narrative of self-defense, and inconsistent with the State’s narrative of guilt. 

On the self-defense element of Innocence, Chad Oulson was clearly not just the initial physical aggressor when he seized the popcorn, he was the initially physical aggressor prior to that moment with his initial strike against Reeves some 10 seconds earlier.  

On the element of Imminence, Reeves’ shot was not fired obviously after there was no longer an apparent threat from Oulson, but within a second of Oulson apparently engaging in a sustained battery upon Reeves with multiple blows.  Certainly there is no way that Curtis Reeves drew a pistol from a pocket and shot Chad Oulson solely over the thrown popcorn, as the State and media propaganda have claimed for more than 8 years—there would simply have been not enough time for that.

On the element of Proportionality, a seated 71-year-old in frail health can certainly suffer serious bodily injury at the hands of a 43-year-old male towering over him at 6’ 4” tall and 220 pounds.  

On the element of Reasonableness, this video evidence provides supports a reasonable perception on the part of Reeves that he was being subject to an imminent and ongoing attack by Oulson that could readily cause him serious bodily harm.

Remember, the defense does not have to prove any of those propositions beyond a reasonable doubt, or even by a preponderance of the evidence. The defense need merely prevent the State from disproving any one of those propositions beyond a reasonable doubt.  

Even if the State can convince the jury that it’s more likely than not that one of those propositions fails, unless it is disproven by the much higher threshold of beyond a reasonable doubt, the jury is obliged to acquit Curtis Reeves rather than convict him

At this point in the trial, only part way through the defense’s case-in-chief, with the State having rested, I don’t see the State as having come anywhere close to disproving any required element of self-defense beyond a reasonable doubt—and that’s particularly true in light of this video evidence that’s utterly consistent with the defense narrative of self-defense.  

And given that the State has rested and only the further evidence to be shown to the jury will almost certainly come only from the defense, I don’t see the State’s narrative being strengthened between now and closing arguments.

Dr. Donna Cohen, Aging Expert

To back up to the start of the court’s proceedings, the first witness of the day was Dr. Donna Cohen, a very well-credentialed academic expert on aging.  Importantly, however, Dr. Cohen is not a clinician of any kind.  Accordingly, she did not medically examine Curtis Reeves, and could not testify as to his personal aging characteristics, infirmities, and frailties.  

Rather, Dr. Cohen was limited to discussing generally how aging typically leads to loss of biological function. Further, that persons experiencing aging were generally aware of their loss of capabilities, accompanied by an increasing awareness of their vulnerability to injury and harm from their environment.  This awareness typically results in different decision-making in risk mitigation than would be the case in less aged persons.

I would expect that most any Florida jury would understand these characteristics either from their own personal experience or simply from observing the many elderly people in their environment, so in that sense Dr. Cohen’s testimony would seem of limited value.  That said, having her testimony puts the defense in a position to cite to it aggressively and authoritatively in their closing argument, which is, of course, rather the whole point.

Direct questioning was conducted by Defense Counsel Dino Michaels and cross-examination was conducted by Prosecutor Glenn Martin .

Dr. Donna Cohen, Direct Questioning

Dr. Donna Cohen, Cross-Examination

Dr. Donna Cohen, Re-Direct

Vivian Reeves, wife of Curtis Reeves

The second witness of the day was Vivian Reeves, Curtis Reeves’ wife.  

Although she was seated beside Reeves in the theater, her ability to recount details of the confrontation between Reeves and Oulson was remarkably limited.  This might be attributed to the dark and noisy nature of the theater as the movie trailers were being played, the likely intense backlighting provided by the illuminated screen on the far side of the Oulsons, and the shock at the physical violence of the confrontation itself.  

Nothing in Vivian Reeves’ testimony, however, was harmful or contrary to her husband’s claim of self-defense.  It was more a matter of her inability to provide testimony to buttress several important facets of that claim, because of what she didn’t see or didn’t hear. 

The State did blunder in the final moments of their cross-examination of this witness, however, when Prosecutor Manuel Garcia referred to her testimony in a transcript from the 2017 self-defense immunity hearing in an attempt to show that Mrs. Reeves’ testimony yesterday was contrary to her testimony back then.  

In fact, the more complete reading of the relevant portion of the transcript demanded in the moment by the defense showed that no such contradiction existed.  This made the State appear either attempting to intentionally mislead the jury or simply incompetent in their grasp of the relevant facts of the case.

Direct questioning of Vivian Reeves was conducted by Defense Counsel Dino Michaels, and cross-examination was conducted by Prosecutor Manuel Garcia.

Vivian Reeves, Direct Questioning

Vivian Reeves, Cross-Examination

Vivian Reeves Re-Direct

Judge Denies Defense Request to Play Trailers In Court

And the end of the court day, and after the jury had been released for the day, the defense asked the judge to allow them to play for the jury, later in the trial, the trailers that were playing in the movie theater at the time of Reeves shooting of Oulson.  The defense argument is essentially that these trailers contribute to the totality of the circumstances, and thus are relevant to the jury’s consideration of self-defense.

The trailers were for movies including “Terminator: Genisys,” a remake of “RoboCop” as well as a movie titled “Sabotage.”  All of these are loud action movies.

The State objected not very effectively that the trailers would be prejudicial to the State and have little probative value, mostly because there is no evidence as to exactly which trailer was playing during the confrontation between Reeves and Oulson. Also, there would be no way to accurately replicate in the courtroom the volume and lighting conditions of the theater.

The defense responded that the only reason we didn’t know the volume and lighting conditions as they existed in the theater at the time, nor precisely what trailer was playing at what point of the confrontation, was because the State through its investigators had failed to secure that information.  That, the defense, argued, ought to be on the State.

Ultimately, however, Judge Barthle sided with the State, and denied the defense request to play the trailers for the jury.

That’s it on the Reeves trial for the moment, folks.  

Live-Stream Commentary & Analysis of Today’s Proceedings!

Also, I’ll once again be doing live stream analysis and commentary over at Rekieta Law’s YouTube channel.  You’ll be able to find today’s live show for the seventh day of this trial at:


You carry a gun so you’re hard to kill.

Know the law so you’re hard to convict.

Stay safe!


Attorney Andrew F. Branca

Law of Self Defense LLC

Nothing in this content constitutes legal advice. Nothing in this content establishes an attorney-client relationship, nor confidentiality. If you are in immediate need of legal advice, retain a licensed, competent attorney in the relevant jurisdiction.


Attorney Andrew F. Branca is in his third decade of practicing law, specializing in self-defense law of the United States, where he is an internationally recognized expert.  Andrew has contributed in this context by the Wall Street Journal, National Review, the Chicago Tribune, the Washington Post, and many others, including nationally syndicated broadcast media.  Andrew is also a host on the Outdoor Channel’s TV show The Best Defense and contributor to the National Review Online.

Andrew is a former Guest Instructor and subject matter expert (SME) on self-defense law at the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s National Academy at Quantico and the Sig Sauer Academy, an NRA Life-Benefactor member, an NRA Certified Instructor, an IDPA Charter/Life member (IDPA #13), and a Master-class competitor in multiple IDPA divisions.  Andrew teaches lawyers how to argue self-defense cases as a certified instructor with the Continuing Legal Education (CLE) system in numerous states around the country.

In addition to being a lawyer, Andrew is also a competitive handgun shooter, an IDPA Charter/Life member (IDPA #13), and a Master-class competitor in multiple IDPA divisions.

Recently, Andrew won the UC Berkeley Law School Debate on “Stand-Your-Ground,” and spoke at the NRA Annual Meeting on self-defense law.