SARASOTA, Fla. (AP) – In a case that generated blaring tabloid headlines in the U.K. press, a Florida teen is facing life in prison without parole for murdering two young British tourists who got lost and wandered into a housing project where their convicted killer lived.
After an eight-day trial, a jury on Wednesday convicted 17-year-old Shawn Tyson of two counts of first-degree murder in the shooting of James Cooper, 25, and James Kouzaris, 24, last April.
The two men were on a three-week Sarasota holiday and spent an evening drinking when they got lost.
Both were considered fun-loving world travelers by those who knew them. Their friends Paul Davis and Joe Hallett said the pair had a knack for making friends with people of all ages and races. Cooper had traveled to Australia and loved tennis; he was a tennis pro in his hometown and had played against countryman Andy Murray. Kouzaris played rugby, taught English in Taiwan and had traveled through Central America prior to visiting Sarasota.
The men were in Florida staying with Cooper’s family on a Gulf coast beach near Sarasota and on April 15, they dined and drank downtown.
Authorities said both were drunk when they got lost and accidentally wandered just before 3 a.m. into the housing project where Tyson lived.
Witnesses testified that Tyson told them he saw two “crackers” _ a derogatory term for white people _ walking through the neighborhood and that he intended to rob them. The tourists said they didn’t have any money and begged Tyson to let them go home. The men also told Tyson they were lost.
“Since you ain’t got no money, then I have something for your ass,” Tyson recounted to a witness, then added that he shot the men several times.
Hallett said friends and family were thankful for the support provided by Sarasota police and municipal officials.
And Davis, who attended the trial, said although he was satisfied with the verdict, it rang hollow.
“Ours is a life sentence with no chance of parole for a broken heart and a shattered soul,” Davis said.
Both men also said they were “dissatisfied” with the lack of support or condolences from the United States government and President Barack Obama in particular.
“We would like to publicly express our dissatisfaction at the lack of any public or private message of support or condolence,” Joe Hallett, a friend of the two victims said.
Tyson did not show emotion as Davis and Hallett spoke. Neither did Tyson’s mother, who was also present.
Kouzaris was from Northampton and Cooper was from Hampton Lucy, Warwick. Since their deaths, friends and family have started a foundation to prevent youth violence in the United Kingdom.
The tourists’ bodies were found shirtless on the street and their baggy pants were pulled down to their thighs. Both men still had their wallets and did in fact have money; Cooper also had a cellphone and camera in his pants pocket. Authorities later found that Kouzaris’ blood alcohol level was 0.243 and Cooper’s was 0.214 _ well past Florida’s legal limit for intoxication when driving, which is 0.08.
During closing arguments, Assistant State Attorney Ed Brodsky told the jury that the case was about “opportunities.”
“For James Cooper and James Kouzaris, they had seized an opportunity to travel abroad,” Brodsky said. “Shawn Tyson seized upon an opportunity to rob and kill two men.”
Tyson was portrayed as an angry teen, one who had the word “Savage” tattooed on his chest and who loved a movie about Jamaican gangs so much that he quoted it when talking to his friends about the murders.
In the end, Tyson was his own undoing. Several prosecution witnesses said Tyson told friends about the shootings in the hours after the killings, then asked friends to hide the murder weapon and bury bullets. A DNA expert said Tyson’s skin cells were found on Cooper’s jeans.
Tyson maintained to police that he was at home during the murders. But witnesses spotted him crawling into his window shortly after hearing gunshots.
Tyson did not testify. His attorneys called only one witness, a crime scene technician, and questioned him briefly. Defense attorneys also tried to discredit the witnesses by saying many of them had criminal records and cooperated with detectives to avoid jail time.
After the jury rendered its verdict, prosecutors played two videos from the parents of Cooper and Kouzaris. The videos depicted both men from birth, showing everything from happy baby photos to school pictures to sports teams. The final photo was of the two men laughing for the camera on a white sand beach.
“They will haunt your thoughts forever,” Hallett told Tyson in the courtroom. “Every night you go to sleep, every morning you wake up, I want you to think of my friends who were murdered.”
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