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Conviction upheld in Pinellas County parking lot shooting

two men in suits sit next to each other in a courtroom, man on the left leans his head forward
Scott Keeler/ Tampa Bay Times pool photo
Defendant Michael Drejka, left, listens during his manslaughter trial in Pinellas Circuit Court in August 2019. An appeals court upheld his conviction and 20 year sentence Wednesday.

A three-judge panel of the 2nd District Court rejected a series of arguments raised by Michael Drejka, who was convicted of manslaughter in the July 2018 shooting of Markeis McGlockton.

In a case that drew national attention, an appeals court Wednesday upheld a conviction and 20-year prison sentence in the fatal shooting of a man during an altercation about a parking spot outside a Pinellas County convenience store.

A three-judge panel of the 2nd District Court rejected a series of arguments raised by Michael Drejka, who was convicted of manslaughter in the July 2018 shooting of Markeis McGlockton.

The case drew heavy attention, in part, because the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office initially declined to arrest Drejka, citing the state’s controversial “stand your ground” self-defense law. Prosecutors later charged Drejka, who was convicted by a jury after a five-day trial.

The shooting happened after McGlockton and his 5-year-old son went into the convenience store, leaving a car that was improperly parked in a spot designated for people with disabilities. Drejka confronted McGlockton’s girlfriend, Brittany Jacobs, and shouted at her about being parked in the spot.

A witness, concerned about Jacobs’ safety, went into the store and told a clerk, according to Wednesday’s ruling. McGlockton heard the witness, went outside and pushed Drejka to the ground.

Drejka pulled out a gun and shot McGlockton, who was unarmed, with the bullet piercing McGlockton’s heart and killing him, the ruling said.

Drejka argued that he acted in self-defense. Among the issues in the appeal was his contention that Circuit Judge Joseph Bulone should have issued what is known as a judgment of acquittal based on the self-defense argument.

But the appeals court, in a 31-page opinion, rejected the contention, pointing to surveillance video of the shooting and witness testimony that McGlockton retreated after pushing down Drejka.

“The surveillance video, coupled with the eyewitness testimony that Mr. McGlockton was retreating, were sufficient to defeat Mr. Drejka's JOA (judgment of acquittal) motion,” said the opinion, written by Judge Edward LaRose and joined by Judges Stevan Northcutt and Suzanne Labrit. “The jury, not the trial judge, had to resolve whether Mr. Drejka acted in self-defense.”

Among Drejka’s other arguments in the appeal was that a juror should have been removed for speaking with an official of the NAACP during the trial. McGlockton was African-American, and Drejka is white.

But the appeals court said the circuit judge properly handled the juror issue.

“Our record is devoid of any juror misconduct,” Wednesday’s ruling said. “As the trial court's interview with the juror revealed, the juror did not know that the individual (from the NAACP) that approached him was observing the trial in an overflow courtroom. Importantly, the two did not discuss the case at all. Certainly, then, the juror did not violate any court order.”

Drejka, now 51, is an inmate at the Columbia Correctional Institution Annex, according to the Florida Department of Corrections website.

Jim Saunders is the Executive Editor of The News Service Of Florida.
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