CLEARWATER, Fla. — The trial for Michael Drejka, the man who shot and killed Markeis McGlockton over a handicapped parking spot outside a Clearwater convenience store, began on Monday. Friday night, the 6-person jury found Drejka guilty of manslaughter. Below is a blog of what happened throughout the trial:
Friday, August 23
Jurors returned to the courtroom at 8:45 a.m. The defense hopes to get through two witnesses today. The first person to take the witness stand is Valerie R. McClain, a psychologist. McClain says a stressful situation can cause lapses in memory. She also talked about the difference between "blading" and retreating. Mcclain says "blading" is a defensive stance. That's important because Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said originally that McGlockton was blading and not retreating. The defense wanted the Sheriff to testify but the judge ruled that wouldn't be allowed. McClain also talked about the "fight or flight" idea explaining how people react to stressful situations. Defense attorneys asked McClain if Drejka’s statement to detectives about McGlockton coming toward him could have been because his memory was impacted by stress. McClain answers that people perceive stressful events differently.
Next up, the defense team calls Mr. Sean Brown. He is the owner and CEO of Trademark Security Services. The defense asked him to speak about the term "blading" as well. Brown talked about the difference between fighting stance, retreating and blading. He says in his opinion, it did not appear that McGlockton was retreating because "his foot or leg would have been pointed in another direction." Brown says blading cuts down on a person's profile making them a smaller target to a gunman. Theresa Jean-Pierre Coy asks "Is that a form of retreat?" Brown answers, "No, it is not."
After Brown was excused from the bench, Judge Bulone asked Michael Drejka if he plans to testify. Drejka decided he will not testify in his own manslaughter trial.
After a quick break, two new items of evidence are introduced: The shirt and sunglasses Drejka was wearing on the day of the shooting.
The defense has rested their case.
The state has decided to call up a witness who testified yesterday: Roy Bedard. He is the police trainer who gives expert opinions on use of force and defensive tactics. Bedard is using the actual weapon Drejka fired in the shooting to talk about how this particular gun works including line of sight, trigger control etc.
State prosecutors have started their closing statements. "We have proven beyond reasonable doubt that that man (points to Drejka) is guilty of manslaughter. He intentionally killed an unarmed man trying to protect his family," Scott Rosenwasser explained. Rosenwasser has addressed the path the bullet traveled showing McGlockton was turned sideways, he has urged jurors to think about McGlockton seemingly stepping backwards on the surveillance video. "That video speaks for itself. This should be a cut and dry case," Rosenwasser added.
Rossenwasser also addresses the hard push by McGlockton. "Does he (McGlockton) roundhouse kick him in the face and beat him to a pulp? No. He shoves him. I submit to you he was protecting his girlfriend of 10 years."
"I submit to you Michael Drejka is a parking lot vigilante. Do normal people use the word negative regularly? Do you want to make dinner tonight? Negative. Do you want to go to the movies? Negative. Negative, neutralize and force multiplier. Nobody uses those," Rossenwasser added. "If he doesn't report it (handicapped parking violations) to law enforcement, then why is he taking pictures of people's cars? That's kind of stalky. That's really weird."
Rosenwasser again shows the surveillance video showing Drejka pull into the parking lot and points out that he is not going to the store but walks immediately towards Britany Jacobs car to confront her.
Rosenwasser asks jurors to hone in on Drejka's calm demeanor during the police interrogation interview the night of the shooting and how Drejka said he hadn't talked to the store manager about the problem of illegal handicapped parking.
The state prosecutors have wrapped their closing statements.
After a lunch break, the defense is making their closing statements. First, Attorney John Trevena started with Drejka's actions approaching Britany Jacobs in the Circle A parking lot. "What he was doing was not wrong. He was doing nothing illegal. Engaging in a legal conversation with someone," Trevena added.
Trevena also talked about McGlockton's actions hiking up his shorts in the moments after the hard push. "That is violent. That is a violent move. Drejka just heard Jacobs threatened she was going to get her man and now he's on the ground," he said.
Trevena also addressing the idea of calling Drejka a vigilante. "He is not a vigilante. He was shoved to the ground," he explained. "What would have happened if Drejka didn't pull his gun? He would have been beaten to a pulp. Does that look like a school yard push to you?" Trevena circles back to McGlockton's use of ecstasy and how that may have impacted his aggression towards Drejka. He added, "Mr. McGlockton caused his own death... by his unprovoked actions."
The jury has now moved into deliberation. The 3 alternate jurors have been sent home. The remaining 6 actual jurors just move into a deliberation room.
We are still on track for the trial to wrap up tonight.
It's been over six hours that the 6-person jury has been deliberating.
Thursday, August 22
Jurors returned to the courthouse at 8:45 a.m. The first witness is Joseph Soutullo. He is the 13th witness to take the stand. Soutullo is a forensic specialist at the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office. He collects digital video, audio and still images at crime scenes. The jury is shown surveillance video Soutello collected of Michael Drejka confronting Britany Jacobs in the Circle A Food Store Parking lot, Markeis McGlockton is shown emerging from the store and shoving Drejka. The video also shows Drejka firing the fatal shot.
Jurors were also shown the surveillance video in slow motion, which is one thing Michael Drejka's attorneys fought to not have shown in court. They said Wednesday, during opening statements, "we want you to look at the video in real time, not slow motion. Life doesn't happen in slow motion," Attorney Bryant Camareno explained.
James Upton takes the stand next as the 14th witness. He also works at the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office and spoke with Drejka on the day of the shooting. He read Drejka his miranda rights.
The 15th witness is Detective Richard Redman with Pinellas County's Robbery and Homicide Unit. Redman interviewed Drejka at the North Sheriff's Office Station on the day of the fatal shooting. The interview was recorded. Jurors are watching the full one hour interview between Drejka and Detective Redman on the night of the shooting. Drejka seems calm and collected in that interview and walks Detective Redman step by step through his actions.
In the interrogation interview, Detective Redman asks Drejka why he didn't just call law enforcement when he saw someone illegally parked in a handicapped spot. Drejka says it wouldn't have helped because Jacobs would have just left. Detective Redman later asks, "what happens if I tell you he never came running towards you (after the gun was drawn), he actually takes a step back?" Drejka answers: "I would disagree." Later Drejka tells the detective, "if he hadn't twitched, I wouldn't have pulled the trigger." A few moments later, "it seemed like a split second," Drejka added. Detectives later tells Drejka, "I want you to know the man you shot is deceased." Drejka replies, "Okay, thank you for telling me."
The 16th witness called to the bench is Natasha Heather Meade. She works for the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office and was called to the North Substation to take photos of evidence including Drejka's injuries. Those photos are shown to jurors.
The 17th witness is Roy Bedard. He is a police trainer who gives expert opinions on use of force and defensive tactics. Bedard said he noticed in the interrogation video that Drejka used several terms that are often known by police officers or members of the military. "For example, he talked about the 21 foot rule. It's unusual for regular people to know about that," Bedard explained. Bedard also spoke about threat assessment and how law enforcement looks at three factors: ability to cause harm, opportunity and intent.
The 18th witness is Dr. Noel Palma a forensic pathologist. He performed the autopsy on Markeis McGlockton. He says McGlockton was 6'1" and 205 pounds. He determined the cause of death was the gunshot wound.
The 19th witness called to the stand is Dr. Bruce Goldberger. He is a pathologist and the director of the forensic toxicology lab at USF. He spoke about how ecstasy was found in McGlockton's system at the time of his death. Goldberger testified that the drug can impair someone but it does not make them aggressive. “It’s a drug that makes you feel well...some people would call it like a love drug. It’s not a drug that causes one to be irritable or agitated or anxious,” Goldberger explained.
The state prosecution rested their case at around 3:40 p.m. The defense will begin calling their own witnesses now.
The state's first witness, and the 20th in this case, is Dr. Dan Buffington. Buffington is a forensic pharmacologist. Buffington says you can't just call MDMA or ecstasy a love drug because it can have different effects based on dosage and type. He said some refer to it as a "love drug" but others refer to it as a "thug drug." Buffington says the pharmacological effects can differ and the drug can cause impulsivity, agitation, aggression, paranoia, confusion and altered perception. Buffington later testified that McGlockton may have been having an adverse reaction to ecstasy because he first shoved Drejka to the ground without knowing the situation. He also testified those adverse effects may have caused McGlockton to run back to the store after being shot by Drejka instead of running towards his girlfriend and children by the family's car.
This case is moving fast. Judge Bulone asked jurors if they are okay with staying late on Friday night to deliberate. The case may possibly wrap up Friday evening. Jurors are being told to return at 8:45 Friday and be prepared to stay late, if need be. The defense has two more witnesses to testify Friday.
Judge Bulone told Drejka it is up to him to decide if he wants to testify but that he does not have to.
Wednesday, August 21
Opening statements for Michael Drejka's case begins shortly after 8:45 a.m. The courtroom is full with spectators, including Markeis McGlockton's parents.
McGlockton's parents release a statement Wednesday morning expressing their hope for justice.
"Right now, all my energy is directed towards the trial," Monica Moore, McGlockton's mother said. "I am focused on getting a conviction. I want justice for my son." Markeis McGlockton's father, Michael McGlockton, says he is both optimistic and pessimistic. "We have watched prior cases (George Zimmerman) play out and many of them start out looking good, but then they go the other way. I am trying to remain positive."
State prosecutors are up first. They focus on an encounter Michael Drejka had just months earlier with Rick Kelly in the same Circle A parking lot. Prosecutors explain how Kelly also parked in a handicapped parking spot and was approached by Drejka. Prosecutors tell the jury in that instance, Kelly told investigators Drejka told him, "I could blow your head off."
Prosecutors then moved to the encounter between McGlockton and Drejka.
"Mr. McGlockton sees Drejka finger pointing at his girlfriend. You bet he went out there to defend his family. He pushed that person away from his family," Fred Schaub explained.
Schaub elaborated to jurors, "McGlockton did not have a weapon. You'll hear testimony from the medical examiner that shows McGlockton was shot in the side. He was turning when he got shot."
Prosecutors also addressed the fact that McGlockton had ecstasy in his system but that it did not impact this case because "it is called the love drug. It does not lead to aggressive behavior," Schaub added.
Drejka's attorneys are up next with their opening statements. Bryant Camareno is focusing on the crucial 11 seconds Michael Drejka had to make a decision about pulling out his gun. Jurors are shown the surveillance video from outside the Circle A food store for the first time of many as this case plays out in the courtroom.
"Mr. Drejka made no threats. In fact, it was McGlockton's girlfriends Britany Jacobs who told Drejka 'My man is going to F you up'," Camareno said.
"It is Mr. Drejka's perception of danger that you as jurors need to focus on," Camareno tells the jurors. "This was a violent shove. The force was so strong, it tore a hole in his shirt."
Camareno also briefly addressed the ecstasy in McGlockton's system at the time of his death.
"What happened here was unfortunate. I submit to you the evidence will show the use of deadly force was justifiable," Camareno added.
The first witness is called to the stand around 10:30AM. He is Rick Kelly, the man who had an interaction with Michael Drejka in the same Circle A Convenience Store parking lot about handicapped parking a few months before Markeis McGlockton's death.
Kelly recalls the conversation with Drejka getting heated. "I should shoot you and kill you," he says Drejka told him. Kelly later points out Drejka in the courtroom and identifies him as the same man from the encounter.
State prosecutors called their second witness just before 11am: Detective Nelson De Leon from the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office. He works as a homicide and robbery detective. De Leon responded to the Circle A Convenience Store to investigate the shooting involving McGlockton. He also spoke with Rick Kelly about the alleged incident in February in the same parking lot.
After just 5 minutes of cross examination, the state called their third witness: John Tyler. He is Kelly's boss, whom Drejka told he was going to send photos of Kelly parked in a handicapped spot to. Drejka left a voicemail for Tyler on February 14th, the day Kelly parked in a handicapped spot outside of the Circle A Food Store. Drejka told Tyler he took photos and would be turning them over to the authorities. Drejka told Tyler he was not handicapped nor was he with someone who was handicapped. Tyler says Drejka told him, "If I had a gun I would have shot him (Kelly)."
Around 11:20, state prosecutors called their 4th witness: Abdalla Salous, the owner of the Circle A Food Store where McGlockton was shot on July 19, 2018. Salous was working on Feb. 14 when the encounter between Kelly and Drejka took place. He told the men to calm down or he would call the police.
After an hour break for lunch, state prosecutors call their 5th witness: Britany Jacobs, the girlfriend of Markeis McGlockton, who was at the store with him and their children on the day her long-time boyfriend was shot and killed. State prosecutors spoke with Jacobs about how Drejka confronted her over parking in a handicapped spot. Jacobs says the conversation became heated. Jacobs says she "just wanted him (Drejka) to leave me and my babies alone." Jacobs two young children were in the car with her at the time. Her 5-year-old son was in the store with Markeis McGlockton.
Prosecutors ask Jacobs about the threat she allegedly made to Drejka when things got heated. "Do you want me to go get my man?" Jacobs says she told Drejka. Jacobs says she hoped saying it would convince Drejka to leave her alone. Drejka's attorney says their client may have percived this as a threat that put Drejka in fear for his life.
During questioning from Drejka's attorneys, attorney Theresa Jean-Pierre Coy pressed Jacobs about why she didn't just roll up her window and drive to a different parking spot instead of continuing to argue with Drejka.
At 1:30, state prosecutors called their 6th witness: Robert Castelli. Castelli was at the Cirle A Food Store on July 19th when the fatal shooting took place. Castelli rushed into the Circle A Food Store to inform the store owner of the altercation between Jacobs and Drejka. Castelli saw the shooting as well. He said he did not hear any threats exchanged. He also said when the shot was fired it appeared that McGlockton was backing up and trying to get away.
The 7th witness is Vicki Conrad, a regular customer of the Circle A store. Conrad says she saw the aftermath of the shooting, helped keep compression on McGlockton’s wound and checked on the couple's children.
Drejka mentioned to Conrad that everything was fine and on video, “He stated everything very calmly, almost proud," Conrad elaborated.
The 8th witness is Pinellas Sheriff’s Sgt. Eric Forcade. He responded to the convenience store that day and said Drejka was very compliant.
The 9th witness is Deputy Robert Smyth, also with the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office. He says Drejka was calm and cooperative and his conceal carry permit checked out.
The 10th and 11th witnesses are Jennifer Hall and Rhonda Klein, Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office Forensic Specialists. Hall showed the gun that was involved in the fatal shooting of McGlockton and confirms it was the weapon involved.
The 12th witness is Corey Nerzig who worked with the FDLE at the time of the shooting. He examined the firearm used in the shooting involving McGlockton and Drejka.
The first official day of trial has wrapped. The jurors have been told to return to the courthouse at 8:45 Thursday morning.
Monday, August 19 & Tuesday, August 20
The jury selection lasted from morning until evening on Monday and Tuesday and focused on asking potential jurors if they have a conceal carry permit and their thoughts on the 2nd amendment. Jurors were also asked if they've ever had to use self defense (via gun, fists, etc.) to defend themselves, how much news they consume and if they can get past the race issues in this case. Jurors were asked if they, or a close family member have a handicapped placard and if having one would impact their thoughts on this case. Several times jurors were asked if they could be fair and partial if chosen to serve on the jury.
After the two-day selection process, five men and a woman were selected to decide Drejka's fate. Two women and a man were chosen as alternates. Most of the jurors are white, none are black.
The trial is expected to be fast tracked and take only a few weeks.
No one disputes that Michael Drejka fatally shot Markeis McGlockton 13 months ago in a fight that began over a handicapped parking space — it's on video seen worldwide.
The fight at his manslaughter trial, which began Monday, will hinge on whether jurors determine Drejka pulled the trigger justifiably after McGlockton knocked him to the ground in July 2018, putting him in fear for his life, or if he instigated the fight by cursing at McGlockton's girlfriend, causing an unarmed McGlockton to come to her aid. There is also a question of whether Drejka should have realized before he fired that McGlockton was backing away.