Final hearing sets stage for trial of Michael Drejka to start next week

The parties in the case met for one last hearing Tuesday to work out the final details of the case, mainly regarding the anticipated testimony of two use-of-force experts.
Michael Drejka, right, attends a pretrial hearing on Aug. 2 at the Pinellas County Criminal Justice Center where sixth-judicial circuit court judge Joseph Bulone heard pretrial motions in advance of his trial, set to begin Aug. 19 in Clearwater.  (DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD   |   Times)
Michael Drejka, right, attends a pretrial hearing on Aug. 2 at the Pinellas County Criminal Justice Center where sixth-judicial circuit court judge Joseph Bulone heard pretrial motions in advance of his trial, set to begin Aug. 19 in Clearwater. (DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times)
Published August 13

LARGO — The next time Clearwater parking lot shooter Michael Drejka steps into a courtroom, it will be for his trial.

The parties in the case met Tuesday for one last hearing, setting the stage for jury selection to begin Monday as scheduled. Drejka is facing a manslaughter charge stemming from the shooting of Markeis McGlockton in July 2018 in a convenience store parking lot. His attorneys will argue he shot in self-defense after McGlockton, 28, shoved Drejka, now 49, to the ground. The shooting was captured on surveillance video.

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Tuesday's hearing mainly revolved around the anticipated testimony of two use-of-force experts. One was Sean Brown, a former 12-year Marine who owns a security business, teaches several security certification classes and is trained in mixed martial arts. He has never testified as an expert. The other, listed by the state, is Roy Bedard, a Tallahassee-based police consultant who has experience testifying as a use-of-force expert.

Both sides wanted their experts to define some terms Drejka used during his original interview with police. One was the 21-foot rule, a self-defense concept coined by a police officer that says you're most vulnerable when an attacker is within 21 feet of you. Drejka referenced the rule when walking detectives through his encounter with McGlockton.

"As I come out I start drawing my weapon," Drejka told detectives during an interview after the shooting. "As I start leveling off my weapon, he makes his next step towards me and 21-foot rule."

The other term was "force multiplier," or a tool that ups the level of force in a situation. So, for example, pulling a gun when someone else has a knife.

"I have no clue what he started or what his endgame was," Drejka told detectives. "So that makes me believe to myself I need a force multiplier because I don't know what's going on."

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Defense lawyer Theresa Jean-Pierre Coy also wanted defense expert Brown to weigh in on a term used by Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri during a news conference the day after the shooting in which he announced he was precluded from arresting Drejka because of Florida's stand your ground law. Gualtieri said McGlockton was "blading" when he started to "turn away a little bit" from Drejka.

"We would call it 'blading,' which is kind of at an angle," the sheriff said. "But he's not turned away. He's still facing him."

Central to Drejka's defense, Coy said, is that McGlockton wasn't retreating when Drejka pulled the trigger. She added that she wanted Brown to weigh in on several other movements Drejka and McGlockton made in the seconds before the shooting, as depicted in the surveillance video. Prosecutors Fred Schaub and Scott Rosenwasser objected, saying that no witnesses, including their own, should be allowed to give their opinions on what's happening in the video. That's up to the jury, they said.

Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Joseph Bulone largely agreed with the state. He said the use-of-force experts can speak generally about the terminology Drejka and Gualtieri used, but they can't speak specifically to the case details or what the video showed.

At the end of the hearing, Bulone turned to Drejka, who has rarely spoken publicly in the year since he was charged. The judge asked how he was doing.

"As well as can be," Drejka said.

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

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