CLEARWATER, Fla. (CN) – The Florida man who shot and killed an unarmed black man in a convenience store parking lot, reigniting the debate over the state’s controversial “stand your ground” law, will serve a 20-year prison sentence, a judge ruled Thursday.
Michael Drejka, who was convicted in August of manslaughter for the shooting death of Markeis McGlockton, stared straight ahead and clenched his jaw as Pinellas Pasco Circuit Court Judge Joseph Bulone read the sentence.
Drejka, 49, shot McGlockton in July 2018 after McGlockton shoved Drejka to the ground following a dispute over a handicap-accessible parking space. Drejka claimed self-defense under Florida’s “stand your ground” law, which allows a person to use force against an attacker before trying to retreat.
The Pinellas County sheriff’s decision to not press charges provoked an angry response by the black community in Florida and beyond, including rallies attended by the Reverend Al Sharpton and Democratic politicians, who evoked the furor over the shooting death of Trayvon Martin years earlier.
A month after the shooting, the state attorney’s office brought a charge of manslaughter.
But unlike the Martin case, the confrontation between Drejka and McGlockton was captured on a convenience store surveillance video.
In the video, Drejka can be seen arguing with McGlockton’s girlfriend, sitting inside McGlockton’s car, which is parked in the handicap-accessible space.
McGlockton was inside the store at the time with his 5-year-old son. Witnesses say another patron mentioned an argument outside and McGlockton left.
The video shows McGlockton opening the door, spotting Drejka and shoving him to the ground. Drejka immediately pulled out a handgun.
A slow-motion version of the video shows McGlockton backing up and starting to turn away. That’s when Drejka shot him.
Before sentencing, the judge outlined Drejka’s earlier confrontations with people at the same convenience store, including the testimony of a truck driver who said Drejka angrily confronted him about parking in the handicap-accessible spot and threatened to shoot him.
This testimony and the video played a large part in the judge’s decision.
“The evidence in this case shows the defendant created conflict and created confrontation and shot and killed an unarmed man who was backing up and retreating,” Bulone said.
Drejka’s attorneys said they will appeal the conviction.
Many of the victim’s family and friends attended Thursday’s sentencing hearing and asked for the maximum punishment of 30 years.
“The defendant’s weakness, his cowardice and his anger are the reasons Markeis is dead,” said Britany Jacobs, the mother of McGlockton’s four children.
The victim’s father, Michael McGlockton, addressed Drejka directly.
“You deserve to die in prison,” he said.
“In the Bible, it is said that in order to get into heaven, we must forgive those who trespass against us,” he continued. “At this point in my life, I’m not there yet. If it just so happens that the lord chooses to take me before I come to terms with this, I will see you in hell, where you and I will finish this.”
Drejka, dressed in an orange jumpsuit, declined to speak.
One of his attorneys, John Travena, said Drejka’s wife and friends did not attend due to ongoing threats. When his attorney read a letter to the court from his wife, Drejka wiped tears away.
“This is not the person who has been characterized in the media,” Travena said while asking the court for leniency. “He is not a racist … he’s actually very remorseful about the situation.”
But Bulone was not persuaded and brought up Drejka’s interview by police hours after the shooting.
Drejka did not seem remorseful at all in the interview, the judge said, and acted like a “wannabe police officer” who harassed people who parked illegally.
“The most ironic thing about this case is [Drejka] parked illegally, not even in a parking space, to confront [McGlockton’s girlfriend] about parking illegally,” Bulone said.
Outside of the courthouse, Benjamin Crump, who was the attorney for the Martin family, praised the judge’s ruling.
“The Michael Drejka conviction and sentencing was important not just for the family of Markeis McGlockton, but also for the spirit of Trayvon Martin and all the victims of ‘stand your ground’ laws,'” he said.
“[McGlockton’s girlfriend] can tell her four babies that the killer of their father did not get away with murder, did not sweep this life under the rug,” he continued. “And for people of color that’s an important precedent.”