LARGO — Clearwater parking lot shooter Michael Drejka was sentenced Thursday to 20 years in prison for the shooting death of Markeis McGlockton.
The sentence came during an emotional hearing about six weeks after a jury convicted Drejka of manslaughter.
Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Joseph Bulone heard from relatives of the killer and victim before issuing his sentence.
A letter from Drejka’s wife, Cara, read in court, asked for leniency and called him a “kind, loving, caring hard-working supportive man."
McGlockton’s family asked for the maximum sentence of 30 years.
“Markeis was loved by so many and because of you, Michael Drejka, my son is now a memory," said McGlockton’s mother, Monica Moore-Robinson.
“I don’t hate you, but I will never forgive you.”
Bulone described a lengthy analysis in arriving at 20 years for the sentence, at one point echoing attorneys for McGlockton’s family in calling Drejka a “wannabe law enforcement officer.”
He highlighted evidence including Drejka’s lengthy interview with detectives, witness testimony and the surveillance video that captured the July 19, 2018, shooting outside a Clearwater convenience store.
“Let me say this about the video: believe your own eyes," Bulone said. "If you look at that video, Markeis is not advancing.”
Bulone also talked about responsible gun ownership, pointing to testimony from a use-of-force expert hired by the defense to testify in the August trial.
He noted that the expert said gun carriers should avoid conflict and, if they do end up in a tense situation, only pull their weapon as a last resort.
The confrontation with McGlockton and his family started when Drejka approached their car outside the convenience store and asked why they had parked in a handicap-reserved space without a placard.
“The evidence in this case shows the defendant created conflict and created a confrontation," the judge said, and “that he shot and killed an unarmed man who was backing up."
Bulone agreed with Drejka’s defense team that there were some mitigating factors in the case.
Drejka stayed at the scene of the shooting and waited for police to arrive. He cooperated with the investigation. He doesn’t have a criminal history.
Bulone dismissed the defense’s contention that Drejka showed remorse — a contention also noted by McGlockton’s father, Michael McGlockton, as he read a statement in court.
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“You showed absolutely no remorse. None," McGlockton said, pointing to a post-arrest television interview Drejka gave.
“You had the audacity to cry or show emotion because you missed your pets and your wife," Michael McGlockton said. “I want you to know that that was a slap in my face. You deserve to die in prison.”
The sentencing hearing was the last stop for now in a case that became a test of self-defense laws, tinged with accusations of racial injustice.
Drejka, who is white, had a concealed weapons permit to carry his .40-caliber Glock handgun and had threatened to use it in prior confrontations.
McGlockton was black and unarmed, drawing comparisons with the 2012 shooting of black teenager Trayvon Martin by white and Hispanic neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman.
Like Zimmerman, Drejka initially remained free because of Florida’s stand your ground law but later was charged by prosecutors. Zimmerman, though, was acquitted by a jury.
“The Michael Drejka conviction and sentence was important not just for the family of Markeis McGlockton, but it was also important for the spirit of Trayvon Martin and all the victims of stand your ground murders," civil rights attorney Benjamin Crump said on Thursday outside the courthouse.
Crump represented Martin’s parents and now represents McGlockton’s girlfriend, Britany Jacobs.
“It was also important for the supporters," Crump said, “those people in communities of color, to know that equal justice under the law is possible in America.”
The courtroom was filled with McGlockton’s family members and supporters Thursday, forcing bailiffs to direct late arrivers to an overflow room. McGlockton’s parents sat in the front row behind prosecutors, flanked by their attorney, Michele Rayner-Goolsby, and representatives from the Clearwater chapter of the NAACP.
Drejka, wearing an orange jumpsuit, sat across the aisle with his four-member team of attorneys.
His wife didn’t attend the sentencing or the trial. It’s not because she doesn’t support her husband, her letter said, but because she feared for her safety. She and others close to Drejka have received threats, she said.
Her letter was read by Drejka attorney Theresa Jean-Pierre Coy.
“I believe in my husband and trust him," the letter read. “Everyone’s lives are forever changed. My thoughts and prayers go out to Britany and her children, and I’m sorry for their loss.”
Coy also submitted a second letter from a former coworker of Drejka’s. After the hearing, defense attorney John Trevena said they had braced for the maximum sentence of 30 years and were “pleasantly surprised."
“It’s still more than it should ever be given the circumstances of this case," Trevena said, "and we intend to fight it on appeal.”
After the hearing, McGlockton’s family filed into the hallway, hugging, smiling and wiping eyes. But the loss of the son and father of four hung over them.
Outside, someone held up a poster painted with McGlockton’s face and the message, “Rest in power."
During the statement he read in court, Michael McGlockton talked about the need for forgiveness in his son’s slaying, as spelled out in the Bible.
But he lamented that he didn’t have it in him Thursday, and that he may never.
Turning to Drejka, he said, “I will see you in hell. Mark my words.”