A Florida man on trial for manslaughter for killing an unarmed black man in a 2018 ‘Stand Your Ground shooting’ chose not to testify on Friday, the final day of testimony.
Michael Drejka is on trial for the death of Markeis McGlockton, an unarmed black 28-year-old who he shot dead in May 2018.
Drejka, 49, had been arguing with McGlockton’s girlfriend for parking in a disabled spot outside a food store in Clearwater, Florida. He did not have anyone in his vehicle and is not disabled himself but he said seeing people abusing handicap spots upset him.
When McGlockton emerged from the store, he pushed Drejka over. Drejka reached for his weapon and shot him in the chest, killing him.
On Friday, his attorneys argued that he thought he was at danger and for that reason, he should be found innocent.
Prosecutors however said surveillance footage of the incident proved that he was not in danger and that he shot too soon, without properly assessing the risk.
Michael Drejka is shown in court on Friday, before the jury was sent out for deliberations. He declined to testify
‘This is really a cut and dry case. There’s no misinterpreting that Markeis McGlockton was going backwards,’ he said, in reference to the fact that McGlockton was walking away from Drejka when he was shot.
‘Did Michael Drejka reasonably believe he was about to die? Did he believe he was about to be beaten to a pulp? No,’ Scott Rosenwasser told the jury.
Drejka, 49, shot and killed Markeis McGlockton, 28, in July 2018 in an argument over a parking spot
‘You cannot shoot an unarmed retreating man, regardless of if he’s pushed you,’ he went on.
Prosecutors said he thought of himself as a ‘vigilante enforcer’ who had a ‘pet peeve’ about able-bodied people parking in disabled spots.
‘He’s got a pet peeve… he takes it upon himself to be the enforcer. He’s a parking lot vigilante,’ he said.
He also criticized the way Drejka used police terminology while being interviewed by detectives when he had no law enforcement background.
‘How many civilians walk around saying “neutralize” and “negative”. Those are law enforcement and military terms. Nobody talks like that. But he does.
‘He goes to enforce a spot at a convenience store, not like it’s his own property, and then he’s like, “I can’t believe she would talk back to me like that.”
‘That’s his mentality,’ he said.
Drejka’s attorneys presented expert witnesses to try to hold up his Stand Your Ground Defense.
This is the moment Drejka shot the unarmed black man after he had pushed him to the ground
In his closing argument, one of his lawyers told jurors to ‘use your common sense’ and said it was entirely reasonable for him to presume that McGlockton was going to hurt him.
‘He wasn’t going out there to hug him. Come on! Use your common sense,’ attorney John Trevena said.
‘Your fundamental right is to stay alive,’ he said, adding that Drejka ‘did not have the physical capacity to defend himself against such an aggressor.’
Trevena also chipped away at prosecutors’ characterization of him as trigger happy and said he had legally owned a gun without firing it for 25 years.
‘You’d think if somebody was itching to use a firearm, if that was their agenda, you wouldn’t have found someone in 25 years time?’ he added.
‘No one is disputing that he shot this man. It’s all on video,’ he said. He added that he felt prosecutors had ‘manipulated’ the jurors.
The defense focused on the term deadly force and how it applies to citizens and not just law enforcement under the law.
They asked the jury to consider not whether McGlockton was actually posing a threat, but whether they think it was reasonable for Drejka to assume that he was and draw his weapon.
Drejka is shown lying on the floor during his police interview, reenacting shooting the victim
The prosecution tore it apart and said they jury ought not to rule on what Drejka perceived as a threat, but what a reasonable person would perceive as a threat.
The defense tried to use a real gun as a prop at one stage to try to make their case but the judge did not allow it.
The defense presented just three witnesses. Drejka chose not testify, telling the judge through a statement: ‘I prefer not to testify.’
The prosecution presented more than 17 witnesses. They also played a video of his interview where he told the cops: ‘I shoot to save my own a**. And that’s that.’
Elsewhere in the interview he said he thought McGlockton was going to kick him.
‘As I come out I start drawing my weapon. As I start leveling off my weapon, he makes his next step towards me and 21-foot rule.
‘It happened so fast and that was that. …I thought kicks were coming or at least he’d be on top of me.
‘It happened so fast and that was that. …I thought kicks were coming or at least he’d be on top of me.
‘I’m thinking he’s coming to do the rest of it… whatever beating was coming after that. If he’s gonna hit me that hard to begin with from blindside from the get-go, what else should I expect?
‘He barely made the second step before I pulled the trigger.
At one point in the hour long interview, Drejka got on the ground and mimicked how he’d shot McGlockton.
He said that even though McGlockton was unarmed, he did not know that and that he thought his life was in danger.
Drejka said he feared he was going to ‘finish what he started’ when he pushed him over and that he was trying to preempt it.
The shooting was captured on surveillance videos outside the store. The footage shows McGlockton edging away from Drejka when he was shot.
Britany Jacobs, 26, spoke publicly for the first time about the circumstances leading up to the death of her long-term boyfriend, Markeis McGlockton, 28, at the Clearwater convenience store parking lot on July 19, 2018
The first trial witness was Rich Kelly who said Drejka threatened to shoot him for parking in the same spot four months earlier
When the detective told Drejka that instead of approaching him, he was backing away, Drejka said he ‘disagreed’.
The detectives found it unusual that Drejka knew so much about the 21ft rule – a term invoked by law enforcement which refer the distance a suspect can travel towards an officer by the time they have identified a threat and pulled their weapon.
There was also testimony from a police trainer who was familiar with the 21ft rule.
He said the Drejka was wrong to invoke it and said it did not apply in his case.
Among other witnesses was Noel Palma, the medical examiner who performed an autopsy on the victim’s body.
The bullet traveled through his left lung and pierced his heart and right lung, causing him to die ‘pretty quickly.’
Other state witnesses included a doctor who determined McGlockton had ecstasy in his system at the time of his death.
On Wednesday, the dead man’s girlfriend, who witnessed his death with her children in the back of her car, said she remembered thinking that she wanted Drejka to leave her and ‘her babies alone’.
There was also testimony from a different black motorist who Drejka threatened to shoot for parking in the same disabled spot four months before McGlockton’s death.
‘Parking lot vigilante’ Michael Drejka had a ‘pet peeve’ for people improperly using disabled spots and viewed himself as ‘the enforcer’
Throughout the trial, there was little mention of Drejka’s background or why he was so irate when McGlockton’s girlfriend parked in the disabled spot.
He is not disabled and there was no one else in his car.
But throughout the investigation, it emerged he had previously told people he became upset when he saw able-bodied people abusing the parking spots.
WHAT IS THE ’21ft RULE’ MICHAEL DREJKA TRIED TO USE TO JUSTIFY KILLING
The 21ft rule, otherwise known as the Trueller rule, is invoked my law enforcement and taught in training exercises.
It refers to the distance – 21ft – a suspect may travel towards an officer during the time it can take an officer to identify a deadly threat and draw their weapon to stop them.
It originated from a Salt Lake City detective, Sergeant Dennis Tueller, and applied at the to knife attacks. The detective tested how long it took in drills for people to cover 21ft, and found that it could be covered in just 1.5 seconds.
While it is well known among law enforcement ranks, it is not common knowledge among civilians.
Prosecutors said it was unusual for Drejka to fixate on it given he has no background in law enforcement.
His mother-in-law is handicapped and he had a high school sweetheart who was also disabled and is now dead, he told some.
Prosecutors said he was a ‘vigilante enforcer’ with a ‘pet peeve’ for people who parked in the spots improperly.
‘He’s got a pet peeve… he takes it upon himself to be the enforcer.
‘He’s a parking lot vigilante,’ he said.
Drejka and his wife, who has not been named publicly and has spoken only on the condition of anonymity after receiving death threats in relation to the case, have been married since 2010.
She gave an interview after the shooting last year to say that she was standing by him, but she otherwise has not spoken.
He previously worked as a tree trimmer but stopped when he injured himself. Originally from Delaware, he moved to Florida and got married in 2010.
Since then, he has worked as an Uber driver but he gave up that job when his car became ‘inoperable’, according to previous statements from his attorney.
Drejka was described as a frequent customer of the food store where the shooting took place and the owner, who was among the state’s witnesses, characterized him as a ‘nosy’ person.
He is never thought to been given police or law enforcement training but was quick to make reference to the 21ft rule when being questioned by police in the hours after the attack.
The 21ft rule refers to the distance a suspect may be able to travel towards an officer in the time that they have identified a threat and have drawn their weapon.
Drejka said he invoked it when McGlockton was standing in front of him and said he thought he was going to be harmed if he did not shoot.
But experts picked apart his story, saying the rule did not apply, because McGlockton was neither moving towards him nor was he 21ft away from him.
They also questioned whether he posed any real threat since there was no weapon drawn.
Drejka drew his weapon and fired it four seconds after McGlockton pushed him to the ground.
STAND YOUR GROUND LAW IN FLORIDA
Travyon Martin, 17, was shot dead in 2012
In 2005, Florida enacted its law whereby it is legal for a person to exert deadly force if;
I) the person reasonably believes that such force is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself, or another, or to prevent the imminent commission of a forcible felony; or
II) the person acts under a reasonable belief as to the necessity of force
It was because of this law that the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office decided not to arrest Drejka after interviewing him in 2018.
In most cases, self-defense only works as a criminal defense if a person has tried to get themselves out of danger and failed to first. It is known as a ‘duty to retreat.’
Stand Your Ground states differ because they do not impose a duty to retreat.
George Zimmerman, who shot the teenager, was acquitted after using a Stand Your Ground defense
In Florida, the law not only protects a person from criminal prosecution but also from civil proceedings.
It is one of the strongest among the 25 states which have Stand Your Ground laws.
Most of them are in the South and 10 actually include the phrase ‘stand your ground’ in the legislation.
It sparked fury in 2012 in Florida when a jury acquitted George Zimmerman in the death of teenager Trayvon Martin.
Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer in the town of Sanford, followed Martin, who he said was behaving ‘suspiciously’, as he walked to a 7-Eleven to get a snack.
They got into an altercation afterwards and Zimmerman shot him in the chest.
The teenager was unarmed and died three minutes later. But Zimmerman said he feared for his life and a jury believed him.