We talked to jurors who found Michael Drejka guilty of manslaughter

The verdict came down to the surveillance video that captured the shooting, they said.
The video recording in the fatal shooting by Michael Drejka, center, played a key role in his conviction on a charge of manslaughter.
The video recording in the fatal shooting by Michael Drejka, center, played a key role in his conviction on a charge of manslaughter.
Published Aug. 29, 2019|Updated Aug. 29, 2019

Surveillance video in the shooting death of Markeis McGlockton last summer fueled community outrage and national headlines.

The footage was cited in an arrest warrant charging McGlockton’s shooter, Michael Drejka, with manslaughter.

Now, it appears the video also played a major role in how the jurors and three alternates in Drejka’s manslaughter trial weighed the case against him.

Jurors who have spoken publicly since Drejka’s conviction Friday said they arrived at a guilty verdict after watching, again and again, the grainy black and white figures move across the screen.

“That looped video we watched at least two or three hundred times," juror James Ryan told the Tampa Bay Times this week.

THE VERDICT: Michael Drejka convicted of manslaughter in Markeis McGlockton’s death

CATCH UP HERE: Who’s who, timeline and links to complete coverage

Ryan was referring to a version of the video that automatically restarted once it ended.

It showed an 11 second span of time — McGlockton, 28, walking out of the Circle A Food Store, shoving Drejka to the ground in the parking lot, and Drejka pulling his .40-caliber Glock handgun and shooting McGlockton.

The jury didn’t end up reviewing a slow-motion version of the video, Ryan said, convinced by an expert witness for the defense that it wouldn’t present a fair portrayal of what Drejka perceived in real time.

During their 6½ hours of deliberations, jurors also returned to Drejka’s taped interview with two Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office detectives. Drejka didn’t testify in court.

Ryan compared what Drejka said to the video, and some things just didn’t line up, he said. For example, Drejka told detectives he saw McGlockton step forward, but in the video, he moves back.

“I had a hard time seeing what he said he saw,” said Ryan, 46, who lives in Seminole and works in information technology.

Within the first 45 minutes to an hour of deliberations, he said, the jurors took a first vote.

The room was split, but Ryan declined to say who voted which way or how many, speaking only about himself. He voted guilty, he said, but as he combed back through his 25 pages of notes from the three-day trial, he kept an open mind.

He said he sympathized with Drejka’s fear that he would be attacked again after the shove and understood why Drejka pulled out his gun.

But "did I feel it was necessary for him to pull the trigger? Absolutely not.”

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Ryan’s comments echo those of other jurors and alternates who have spoken out since the trial, including jury foreman Timothy Kleinman.

“He (Drejka) had time to think, ‘Do I really have to kill this man?’" Kleinman told , who spoke to WFTS-Ch. 28 on Sunday. "And no, he didn’t, but he chose to.”

Kleinman added: “I think simply drawing the gun would have been enough. At that point Mr. Drejka had the upper hand."

He and another juror were initially leaning toward acquittal, he told the station.

At one point, about five hours into deliberations, Kleinman sent a question to Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Joseph Bulone asking for clarification on a section of the jury instructions regarding “reasonable doubt” as it pertains to self defense.

Bulone said he couldn’t do much beyond re-read the instructions.

The wording stumped the panel, Ryan told the Times. But hearing Bulone read it out loud cleared things up for him.

“Some of the key words of that paragraph, the way he (Bulone) read it helped me understand what it meant,” Ryan said.

Two of the three alternate jurors also spoke about their thoughts, saying they would have convicted Drejka.

All of them sat through the whole trial not knowing they were alternates. They were only told Friday before the six-member jury headed into deliberations without them.

“It really came down to ... the fact that once the gun was drawn, he, the victim, retreated,” alternate juror Edie Clator told the Times. "The defendant had enough time to make the decision that once he saw the victim retreating, that he did not have to pull the trigger.”

Keith Booe, another alternate, told reporters he was focused on the pause between when Drejka hit the ground and when he pulled his weapon and fired.

“I think he had the opportunity not to kill him,” Booe said.

The July 19, 2018, shooting arose from an argument over a handicap-reserved parking space at the Circle A market on Sunset Point Road.

Drejka approached McGlockton’s girlfriend, Britany Jacobs, who had parked in the spot with no placard. The two started arguing while McGlockton was in the store with his 5-year-old son. He caught wind of the brewing argument from a witness and left the store.

McGlockton, who is black, shoved Drejka to the ground. Drejka, who is white, shot him once in the chest. He told detectives he was afraid of further attack.

The closely watched case made national headlines after Sheriff Bob Gualtieri initially declined to arrest Drejka, citing Florida’s stand your ground law.

The decision sparked renewed debate about self-defense and race, reminiscent of the 2012 shooting of African American teenager Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman, a white Hispanic. An all-white jury acquitted Zimmerman.

None of the Drejka jurors were black. Drejka’s defense attorneys successfully blocked a black woman from making it onto the jury, despite an objection by the state that they were only striking her because of her race.

During jury selection, prosecutor Scott Rosenwasser asked prospective jurors if they could still be fair and impartial knowing the victim was black and the shooter is white.

Ryan disclosed that, as an Asian man, he’s struggled with racism in the past. But that didn’t play a role in his assessment of the case, he said. There was no evidence presented at trial that the shooting was racially motivated.

“Race was never a factor during the trial,” Ryan said.

Clator, the alternate juror, said she was struck by testimony from expert witnesses for both the state and the defense regarding the drug MDMA found in McGlockton’s system during the autopsy. The state expert described the drug, better known as ecstasy, as a “love drug." But the defense expert said it can cause aggression consistent with McGlockton’s actions that day.

“It was just kind of weird in seeing how they tried to put a spin, a total different spin on something," said Clator, 55, who lives in St. Petersburg and works in corporate travel. The presence of the drug didn’t make a difference in her assessment of the case, she said.

The jurors all called the case tragic, saying a number of poor decisions led up to McGlockton’s shooting. But ultimately, they were concerned only with whether the fatal shot was necessary.

“It’s horrible for that family," Clator said, "but that can’t be what you base it on, so that’s what I had to keep saying in my mind as it went along.”

Contact Kathryn Varn at (727) 893-8913 or Follow @kathrynvarn.