With Markeis McGlockton’s killer finally charged with a crime, there was good reason to expect a jury to return a guilty verdict in Florida’s latest controversial “Stand Your Ground” shooting case, legal experts told NewsOne on Tuesday.
“The chances of a conviction are high in this situation,” said civil rights attorney L. Chris Stewart, who counts the families of Walter Scott and Alton Sterling as his clients. “It’s a travesty that there was no immediate arrest. In the video, McGlockton takes a step backwards. This takes away the Stand Your Ground defense.”
Florida A&M University’s Law School Dean LeRoy Pernell agreed but also cautioned that juries are unpredictable.
“What makes this case different from other Stand Your Ground cases is that we have a video recording, from beginning to end,” said Pernell, who teaches criminal procedure courses at the historically Black university’s law school in Orlando.
Michael Drejka, 48, was seen on video shooting the unarmed Black man on July 19 in the parking lot of a Clearwater convenience store. McGlockton, 28, pushed Drejka to the ground after he came out the store and saw the man arguing with his girlfriend about a handicap parking space.
Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, who originally declined to make an arrest because of the nature of the Stand Your Ground law, locked up the gunman immediately after the state prosecutor charged Drejka with manslaughter on Monday.
Pinellas County State Attorney Bernie McCabe defended his decision to charge Drejka with manslaughter instead of murder.
“I went through it all and made the legal decision that that is the charge that we could prove,” he told NBC News.
Under Florida law, a first-degree murder conviction requires the prosecution to prove that the crime was premeditated. A second-degree murder charge requires evidence of a “depraved mind,” better described in layman’s terms as killing in the “heat of passion.” For manslaughter, proving intentional negligence is the key.
Pernell said he believed the prosecutors got the charges right.
“They had to go with something less than premeditated murder. I’m not in favor of over-charging then moving down,” the law professor explained. “The state attorney had full information that figured into his decision.”
The video is the key piece of evidence in this case. However, Pernell warned that the defense most likely would offer a different perspective on McGlockton’s backward step that preceded Drejka pulling the trigger.
The Stand Your Ground law protects shooters from prosecution if they feel threatened. Unlike other self-defense laws, it does not require the shooter to try to flee the scene before using deadly force. One day after the incident, Gaultieri concluded that McGlockton was the aggressor and Drejka had a right to shoot under the law.
Gaultieri ignored the fact that McGlockton was defending his own family during the encounter. McGlockton had the couple’s 5-year-old son with him when he observed Drejka yelling at his girlfriend.
“The sheriff was wrong,” Stewart insisted. “He was borderline racist, saying McGlockton was violent but had no negative words for the shooter. There was no immediate threat to him. The video doesn’t show McGlockton charging at him. Drejka should have backed away.”
Pernell said the law is flawed.
“Part of the problem with Stand Your Ground is that there was a decision at the law enforcement level to prevent scrutiny from the courts and grand jury review,” the professor stated. “Not to belittle the sheriff’s training, but the law enables these cases to bypasses a whole process that includes a jury.”
Race has previously played a major role in determining who gets convicted in Stand Your Ground cases. Shooters who killed a Black person walked free 73 percent of the time, while those who killed a white person went free 59 percent of the time, according to a 2012 analysis by the Tampa Bay Times.
There’s also that area where fear and race intersect. Fear of Black men increases the chances of these types of shootings, the dean said.
“I’m not going to ascribe emotions to the shooter,” Pernell stated, “but unreasonable fear comes into play in extreme circumstances.”