A Florida jury deliberated for just six hours before finding a man guilty of manslaughter in the 2018 killing of an unarmed father he shot in front of his family in a dispute over a handicap parking space.
Michael Drejka had argued he acted in self-defense, and initially invoked the controversial "stand your ground" law that earned widespread attention during the trial of Neighborhood Watch volunteer George Zimmerman in 2013 killing of African-American teenager Trayvon Martin.
The jury in the Drejka trial came to its guilty decision late Friday after less than a full day of deliberation.
Drejka showed no emotion in court as the verdict was read. He will return to court for sentencing on Oct. 10.
Just hours after gunning down Markeis McGlockton, Drejka told detectives he opened fire on July 19, 2018, when the unarmed man shoved him to the ground outside a Circle A store in Clearwater and took one step toward him, a scenario the jury apparently rejected after viewing security video multiple times that showed the victim step back when he saw Drejka pull a firearm.
"We are incredibly grateful and thankful to the prosecution," McGlockton family attorney Michelle Rayner said following the verdict. "We are grateful to the jurors of this case that they saw what we saw and I'm so proud and honored to stand here with Markeis' family. It has been the honor of my life."
Benjamin Crump, another attorney representing the McGlockton family, alleged that race played a role in the fatal shooting of the a 28-year-old African American.
"Markeis McGlockton was needlessly and wrongfully killed by this parking lot vigilante," Crump said in a statement. "The jury in this case sent a crystal clear message – violent racism has no place in American society. Today’s verdict marks a victory over stand your ground.”
Bryant Camareno, an attorney for Drejka, who is white, told the jury during his opening statement that the case was "not about race" and prosecutors did not present evidence to the contrary.
Drejka, who had a permit to carry a concealed weapon when he shot McGlockton, initially invoked Florida's so-called "stand your ground" self-defense law, which went into effect in 2005. It allowed people to use lethal force if they consider their lives to be in imminent jeopardy.
But Drejka and his attorneys scrapped that argument in favor of a plain self-defense case.
The verdict came a day after prosecutors played the jury a video of the lengthy interrogation of Drejka by Pinellas County Sheriff's Office detectives.
"What's going through my mind is he's coming after me again. I was thinking he's going to finish what he started," Drejka told detectives just hours after the shooting, according to the interrogation video.
McGlockton's father, Michael, said the guilty verdict provided relief to his family and gave them a measure of justice and closure on the tragedy, which prompted several community protests before Bernie McCabe, the state attorney for Pinellas County, announced his decision on Aug. 14 to charge Drejka with manslaughter.
"It's been well over a year since we've been dealing with this matter and I can safely say my family can rest now," Michael McGlockton said Friday. "Now we can start putting the pieces back together and move on."
Drejka told detectives that after the victim "blindsided me out of nowhere" and "tackled" him to the ground outside the Circle A store, he drew his Glock pistol from his holster as McGlockton took a step toward him.
"He barely took the second step before I pulled the trigger," Drejka told detectives George Moffett and Richard Redman, according to the video.
He said that from his position on the ground, he never saw McGlockton's face or hands before he fired.
"I could see his legs. I know he was a black guy, that's all," he told the detectives, according to the video.
He said McGlockton never said a word to him and he didn't say anything to him before he shot him.
"If he hadn't twitched, I would have never pulled the trigger," Drejka had said. "The feet said he was coming toward me and so did the hips."
Video footage from a security camera in front of the Circle A that captured the July 19, 2018, fatal shooting appears to contradict what Drejka told the detectives.
The security video played multiple times for the six-member jury showed Drejka apparently arguing with McGlockton's girlfriend, Britany Jacobs, over why she was parked in a handicap space when McGlockton came out of the store and shoved Drejka to the ground. In a split second, Drejka pulled his gun and fired as McGlockton seemed to be stepping away from McGlockton, according to the security video.
During the interrogation, which Drejka submitted to after waiving his Miranda rights to remain silent, Det. Moffett challenged Drejka's recollection of how the shooting transpired.
"What if I tell you I looked at the video and he took a step back?" Moffett asked Drejka.
Drejka responded, "I'd disagree."
During the interrogation, which occurred almost six hours after the shooting, Drejka explained that he has a "pet peeve" about people parking in handicap spaces despite not being disabled himself. He said that when he saw Jacobs sitting in a car in the handicap space, he examined the front and rear of her car to see if it had a disabled person parking permit.
"I said, 'It's not very polite to park there when there's other people that need to use this,'" Drejka said he told Jacobs, according to the interrogation video. ''She says, 'Is it affecting you directly?' I said, 'If my mother-in-law rolls in, yes it will.'"
On Wednesday, Jacobs testified that Drejka was yelling and cursing at her for parking in the handicapped spot. She said she was inside the car with her two younger children, an infant and a 3-year-old, and that Drejka "scared" her.
"He was more angry and aggressive. He was yelling and pointing and telling me where I should park," Jacobs testified. "I just wanted this man to leave me alone, just leave me and my babies alone."
During the interrogatoin, Moffett asked Drejka why he didn't call law enforcement when he saw Jacobs in the handicap spot.
"Wouldn't you think it would be better instead of putting yourself in that type of circumstance that could escalate?" he asked.
Drejka responded, "Why bother you with stupid things like that?"
He said by the time law enforcement arrived, the person he complained about would have already left the scene, adding, "They always do."
"When I just say something to a person about being parked there, I don’t expect it to go where it went," Drejka told the detectives.
Moffett pressed him, asking if he was concerned about prompting a violent confrontation when he previously complained about people parking in handicap spaces.
Drejka answered, "That's why I take precautions. I'm a very careful person. I have a [concealed weapon] permit."
Near the end of the interrogation, Moffett informed Drejka that McGlockton had died.
"Thanks for telling me," Drejka said.