Clearwater parking lot shooter may skip stand-your-ground hearing, argue self-defense before jury

Michael Drejka's lawyers said they are more likely to follow the route George Zimmerman's legal team took when they won him acquittal in the 2012 shooting of Trayvon Martin.
Published January 11

LARGO — Defense lawyers for Clearwater parking lot shooter Michael Drejka said Friday they were leaning against using a stand-your-ground defense for their client, the strongest indication so far of their legal strategy ahead of a trial set to begin in August.

John Trevena, a lawyer for Drejka, said he and co-counsel Bryant Camareno are more likely to argue self-defense in front of a jury — the same route George Zimmerman's attorneys took when they won him acquittal in the 2012 shooting of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin.

"We’re leaning toward letting a jury make the call," Trevena said.

The comments came after a hearing to clarify where Drejka can go while he is free on $100,000 bail and wearing a court-ordered electronic tracking device. Trevena said in court that his client ran into issues shopping at a CVS and voting because of what he called overreach by the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office, the agency responsible for enforcing the device.

Drejka, 48, faces a manslaughter charge in the fatal shooting last summer of Markeis McGlockton after an argument over a parking space. Sheriff Bob Gualtieri declined to arrest Drejka, saying the shooting fell within the bounds of Florida's stand your ground law. The decision sparked outrage and reignited a debate over the controversial law, which took effect in 2005. Prosecutors filed charges against Drejka about three weeks later.

ORIGINAL STORY: No arrest in fatal shooting during argument over handicap parking space

Legislators changed stand your ground in 2017 to shift the burden of proof from the defense onto the state. In order to use stand your ground as a defense, Drejka must file a motion to dismiss the case, saying he feared for his life when he shot McGlockton. That would trigger a hearing before a judge during which prosecutors would have to disprove Drejka's claim by "clear and convincing evidence," a standard between more likely than not and beyond a reasonable doubt.

The case would proceed to trial only if prosecutors convinced a judge during the hearing.

But if the defense team takes the route Trevena indicated on Friday, the case would go straight to trial as normal.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Think you know stand your ground? The recent Clearwater case tells us you’re probably wrong.

Drejka's attorneys have largely avoided going into specifics on their legal strategy, but they have repeatedly raised stand your ground and the sheriff's reasoning in declining to arrest Drejka when discussing their client's case outside the courtroom.

"When the sheriff himself gives a press conference and says this fell within the bookends of the stand your ground law, how absurd is it that we're now sitting here now with this man spending all his time, money and efforts trying to defend this?" Trevena said Friday. "It's wrong."

During the hearing, Trevena asked for clarification on where his client can and can't go with a GPS monitor, and questioned why Drejka needed it at all because he didn't pose a flight risk.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Judge refuses to lower Michael Drejka’s $100,000 bail

His client was outfitted with the device as a condition of his release from the Pinellas County jail on $100,000 bail. Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Joseph Bulone also ordered Drejka to stay away from McGlockton's family, creating certain pockets of the county that Drejka can't travel with the GPS monitor.

Sheriff Gualtieri said if a defendant is caught in one of those pockets, his agency determines on a case-by-case basis if they had a valid reason for being there or were truly violating a court order.

For purposes of the court order, McGlockton's family included his parents, his children and his girlfriend, Britany Jacobs, who witnessed the shooting. At the hearing, Bulone told Drejka to avoid the CVS location he had an issue with and to vote by mail in the next election. He also removed McGlockton's parents from the list of family members. Still in effect are the home, school and work addresses for Jacobs and the three children she shared with McGlockton.

Michele Rayner, a lawyer representing McGlockton's parents, said after the hearing that she respects Bulone's decision to remove her clients from the restrictions. But, she said, it's "sickening, the fact that he (Drejka) believes that he has the ability to move freely about in this society when he shot and killed Markeis McGlockton."

"If you don't kill anybody, if you don't murder anyone in cold blood," Rayner said, "you don't have to worry about where you're going."

Contact Kathryn Varn at [email protected] or (727) 893-8913. Follow @kathrynvarn.