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Michael Drejka trial hinges on how jurors interpret video and stand your ground, attorneys say

Michael Drejka, left, is scheduled for trial Aug. 19 in the shooting death of Markeis McGlockton. Drejka has said he fired in self-defense after he was pushed to the ground during an argument over a parking space. [Times (2018)]
Published Aug. 16

CLEARWATER — A fatal shooting in a convenience store parking lot fueled a national debate over Florida's divisive stand your ground law.

Among those who have followed the story closely as the shooter's trial approaches Monday are defense attorneys across Tampa Bay.

Expect a video tape of the encounter to play a major role in the outcome of the trial, said many of the 10 attorneys contacted by the Tampa Bay Times, none of whom have a stake in the case. And look for jurors' deliberations to be influenced, some attorneys said, by attitudes they already hold about the Second Amendment.

RELATED STORY: Michael Drejka's stand-your-ground defense will go to a jury, not a judge

Defendant Michael Drejka, 49, has called the shooting self defense and plans to invoke stand your ground. But prosecutors charged him with manslaughter in the July 2018 death of 28-year-old Markeis McGlockton.

State lawmakers passed stand your ground in 2005, dramatically altering Florida's traditional self-defense law by removing the duty to retreat before resorting to deadly force. Here are excerpts from interviews with the local attorneys.

Bjorn Brunvand, Clearwater

Fielding a jury will be particularly difficult next week.

Most people exposed to the case already have strong opinions about it.

The "$1 million question" won't be whether potential jurors have watched or read news coverage on pretrial motions. Rather, the defense and prosecutors have to look out for people with a predisposition toward Drejka based on that coverage.

Jurors could have a difficult time reaching a verdict. Self defense cases like Drejka's are ripe for a hung jury.

Curtis Crider, Clearwater

Judge Joseph Bulone recently ruled that prosecutors can show jurors a slow-motion version of a surveillance video that shows the shooting. Jurors' interpretation of the video will be key.

McGlockton was inside the convenience store when he was told Drejka was challenging his girlfriend because they had parked in a handicap-reserved parking spot. McGlockton walked back out, shoved Drejka to the ground and Drejka shot him with a handgun.

In the slow-motion video, McGlockton appears to be backing away from Drejka when he is shot, Crider said. This is more pronounced than when the video is played at normal speed.

"To me, that's a huge factor in the case. If I was the defense, I wouldn't be happy about that."

He added, "If I had a guess, I'd say he'll be convicted."

Nicole Denmon, St. Petersburg

The surveillance video will be the focal point of the trial, but it's not always clear how people will react to video.

Still, "I think the defense is going to have an uphill battle."

Attorneys for Drejka will have to craft their arguments around the video.

Bruce Denson, St. Petersburg

Denson attended Drejka's initial bond hearing.

The prosecution, Assistant State Attorneys Fred Schaub and Scott Rosenwasser, appeared well-prepared.

He added, "You're not going to change people's opinions with the Second Amendment or stand your ground."

Brian Gonzalez, Tampa

Drejka's legal team could argue that the slow-motion video doesn't accurately portray what their client perceived in the moments after McGlockton pushed him.

"It's a strong argument … 'Hey, we have that luxury now, he didn't have that luxury then.'"

The video will play a central role in the trial, but he has no expectations about what the jury will decide.

Drama has followed Drejka's legal team over the last year, with John Trevena arrested in Largo on a domestic battery charge and his first attorney Lysa Clifton stripped of her law license after pitching her services to Drejka.

Said Gonzalez, "Hopefully the jury will put that aside."

Robert Lee Hoskins III, Clearwater

A key factor was the ruling by Judge Bulone that will allow jurors to hear that Drejka had threatened to shoot another man in February 2018 over the same handicap-reserved parking spot.

Prosecutors asked to use this evidence of prior actions under the so-called Williams Rule, named for a 1959 Florida Supreme Court case.

"Williams Rule evidence is real tough," Hoskins said. In the eyes of jurors, "it's just like a person being convicted of a crime."

Grady Irvin Jr., Tampa

Pretrial news coverage about Drejka's lawyers getting into trouble will be a factor in the trial. People don't necessarily like defense attorneys anyway, and this drama won't help.

"The credibility of the attorneys is going to be very important."

Ajay Pallegar, Tampa

Drejka's lawyers were smart to wait until trial to present a self defense argument rather than seeking a hearing before the judge in order to have the charge dismissed.

It's a strategy similar to one employed in the defense of George Zimmerman, acquitted in the Sanford shooting death of African-American teen Trayvon Martin.

"He'll almost inevitably have to testify," Pallegar said of Drejka. "I think that's the best way to convince a jury."

Josh Sheridan, Tampa

Sheridan was a partner of one of Drejka's lawyers and worked for both Rosenwasser and Judge Bulone in the State Attorney's Office.

He expects they will run a clean trial, "by the book."

"It's set up as well as it can be," he said, given how contentious the case has been.

"I think it's hard for anyone to not have any opinion on it. It's almost a referendum on the gun debate."

Erin Woolums, St. Petersburg

Who's on the jury will decide the outcome.

"This case is going to be won or lost on who's placed on that jury."

She added, "This is such a politicized case. Members of the public have an opinion on it, one way or another."

Times staff writer Kathryn Varn contributed to this report. Contact Sam Ogozalek at sogozalek@tampabay.com or (813) 336-3430. Follow @SamOgozalek.

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