CLEARWATER, Fla. (AP) - 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 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.
Prosecutors, defense attorneys and the judge are picking six jurors whose task could be complicated by Florida's controversial "stand your ground law" and by race: Drejka is white and McGlockton was black.
"Within the context of all of these similar cases throughout the country where you've seen these unarmed black men being shot by armed white men who claim to have been threatened somehow, it's going to come in," trial consultant Geri Satin told the Tampa Bay Times. She is not involved in the case. Drejka, 49, could get 30 years if convicted. Jury selection is expected to take days.
On July 19, 2018, McGlockton's girlfriend, Britany Jacobs, pulled their car into a handicapped parking space outside a Clearwater convenience store. She sat in the car with two of their young children, while McGlockton went inside with their 5-year-old son.
The soundless store security video shows the altercation began about a minute later. Drejka pulled up in his SUV, parking perpendicular to Jacobs. Drejka got out, walked to the back of Jacobs' car, looked at the license plate, and then went to the front, apparently looking for a handicapped sticker there. He appears to say something to Jacobs and points to two empty spaces nearby.
He then walked to Jacobs' window. He spoke from about a foot away, gesturing with his hands. Jacobs says Drejka cursed at her. A man entering the store about 15 feet (4.5 meters) away stops to look and a woman glances over.
Someone told McGlockton about the confrontation and he exited the store. He walked toward Drejka and, just as Jacobs got out of the car, shoved Drejka with both hands. Drejka landed on his back and McGlockton took a step toward him. Drejka sat up, pulled his gun from his right front pocket and pointed it at McGlockton, who took three steps back, his arms at his side. Drejka fired, hitting McGlockton, who ran back into the store clutching his chest. Witnesses said he collapsed in front of his son, waiting inside.
Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri initially refused to charge Drejka, citing the stand your ground law. It says people can use deadly force if they believe they are in imminent danger of death or great bodily harm and have no obligation to retreat. But the law doesn't apply if the shooter instigates the initial altercation. Prosecutors believe Drejka was the aggressor and overruled Gualtieri. Circuit Judge Joseph Bulone rejected an attempt by Drejka's attorneys to call Gualtieri as a witness.
Prosecutors will be allowed to call a truck driver who says Drejka threatened to shoot him months earlier in a confrontation over the same parking spot. They will also be allowed to play the video in slow motion, to show that McGlockton was retreating. Drejka's attorney have argued he didn't have that ability during the seconds between being pushed to the ground and the shot being fired.
The trial is expected to last two to three weeks.