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Shawn TYSON

 
 
 
 
 

 

 

 

 
 
 
Classification: Homicide
Characteristics: Juvenile (16) - Robbery
Number of victims: 2
Date of murder: April 16, 2011
Date of birth: March 19, 1995
Victim profile: James Cooper, 25, and James Kouzaris, 24 (British tourists)
Method of murder: Shooting (handgun)
Location: Sarasota, Sarasota County, Florida, USA
Status: Sentenced to life in prison without parole on March 29, 2012
 
 
 
 
 
 

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Shawn Tyson guilty of murdering two Britons in Florida

BBC News

March 29, 2012

An American teenager has been jailed for life in the US after being found guilty of the first degree murder of two British tourists in Florida.

James Cooper, 25, from Warwickshire, and James Kouzaris, 24, from Northampton, were shot in Sarasota.

The pair, who met at Sheffield University, were killed after drunkenly wandering into the Newtown area in the early hours of 16 April 2011.

The court heard Shawn Tyson, 17, had killed them after trying to rob them.

It also emerged that hours before the murders, Tyson had been released after his arrest following a shooting on 7 April.

Tyson, who was tried as an adult at Sarasota County Court despite having been 16 at the time of the murders, was given two life sentences without the eligibility of parole.

'Pain you have caused'

Before sentence was passed, two of the British pair's friends read out impact statements to the court.

Joe Hallett accused Tyson of taking everyone involved on a "journey to hell during the past 12 months".

He said: "You murdered two people who, if you had given them the chance, would have given you the time of day.

"Every night you go to sleep, every morning you wake up, I want you to think of my friends who you murdered."

He added: "I hope that you and your family suffer every single second of every single day, just as the loved ones of James Kouzaris and James Cooper do.

"For every painful detail of their deaths I have endured, for each disturbing photo I have been exposed to, I am still glad I have this opportunity to look into your eyes and try to explain the pain that you have caused."

Paul Davies called Tyson "a coward" and said: "You might think being a man is about carrying a gun around but it isn't. Wearing a mask and shooting two guys in cold blood is being a coward."

He added: "For the past week I've had to sit in this courtroom and watch photos of my two best friends lying on the ground, riddled with bullet holes.

"I've had to listen to how you stalked them, made them beg for their lives and then unload a gun on them.

"I've had to listen to all that knowing that they would never in a million years have threatened you or tried to hurt you.

"They wouldn't hurt anyone because, like I say, they were good men, the most amazing men you could have ever met. Maybe if you were more of a man that night you would have known them long enough to find that out for yourself."

The families of Mr Cooper and Mr Kouzaris were not in court but said in a statement they were satisfied with the verdict.

They added: "It is a fact that we were given a life sentence when our sons were so brutally and needlessly taken from us.

"Ours is a life sentence, with no chance of parole from a broken heart, and a shattered soul."

Release criticised

The families also criticised the Sarasota court system that had freed Tyson after a judge had warned the teenager was a danger to the public following the earlier shooting, in which no-one was hurt.

In the statement, the families said: "The evil of the killer is one thing, but the fact is, he would not have been on the streets had instructions to keep him incarcerated been passed from one judge to another."

When the mistake came to light the Mayor of Sarasota, Kelly Kirschener, vowed the city's prosecutors would never let anything similar happen again.

The court also saw a video made by Mr Kouzaris's parents. His father Peter, with his wife by his side, said: "The 16th of April, 2011, will be etched in the hearts and the memories of all those people who loved and had the privilege of loving James.

"Who could have imagined the tragic events that unfolded so cruelly?"

He added his son "had been needlessly taken" in a "moment of madness."

During the trial, jurors heard how Mr Kouzaris, a local government officer, and tennis coach Mr Cooper had been out drinking in downtown Sarasota before getting lost and wandering into the Newtown area in the early hours.

The prosecution said they were confronted by Tyson who tried to rob them and then shot them when he realised they had very little money.

The court heard Tyson had boasted to his friend Latrece Washington, who testified against him, that one of the men had begged for his life but he shot him anyway.

Buried casings

The teenager was seen by neighbours running to his house and climbing in the window just after the gunshots.

He also told another friend, Marvin Gaines, he had killed the men.

Mr Gaines said Tyson gave him seven 0.22 calibre shell casings to bury in his backyard, as well as a gun.

Mr Gaines later gave the gun to friend Jermaine Bane, who sold it for $50.

After he was threatened with a charge of being an accessory to murder, Mr Gaines led police to where the casings were buried. The murder weapon has never been found.

 
 

Shawn Tyson murder trial: Gun was 'buried by friend'

BBC News

March 27, 2012

The friend of a teenager accused of shooting dead two British tourists in Florida has told a court how he buried the gun to help him out.

Marvin Gaines, 19, said he had buried the shell casings and a gun in his back garden to help Shawn Tyson, who denies committing the double murder.

James Cooper, from Warwickshire, and James Kouzaris, from Northampton, were found shot dead in Sarasota last April.

Mr Gaines said his friend had confessed to him saying "Oh bra, I did that".

Mr Tyson will not give evidence in his defence.

When asked by Judge Rick De Furia if he wished to remain silent, he said: "Yes, sir."

'Bury them'

The British tourists, who met at Sheffield University, were found dead on 16 April in a public housing neighbourhood in the Newtown area of the city.

They were stripped to their waists and their trousers had been pulled down to their thighs, but they still had their wallets and a small amount of cash on them.

Mr Gaines told the court that when he had met Mr Tyson on 16 April, the accused had asked him if he had heard "about them people getting killed back there?"

Mr Gaines said he had known nothing about it, to which Mr Tyson had replied: "Oh bra, I did that."

He said Mr Tyson had then given him the shell casings from a suitcase he had hidden in his brother's bedroom.

"He gave them to me and told me to bury them," Mr Gaines told the court.

"I asked him, 'do you want me to bury them or throw them away?' He told me to bury them."

The murder weapon has not been found.

Recovered bullets

When questioned by police, Mr Gaines initially denied any knowledge of the murders.

However he later decided to co-operate when detectives told him that he could be charged as an accessory to murder.

Firearms expert Rosemary Jassoy examined two bullets recovered from the bodies of Mr Kouzaris and Mr Cooper.

She also examined all seven shell casings and said the casings and the bullets were suitable for a 0.22 calibre revolver.

She said the casings had been fired by the same gun but there was no way to prove the recovered bullets had come from any of the seven casings.

The court also heard DNA matching the profile of Shawn Tyson was found on a sample taken from Mr Cooper's jeans.

Crystal Oechsle, a DNA analyst from DNA Laboratories International, said samples were taken from four areas on the garment.

On one, from the left front leg of the trousers, she said a mixed DNA profile was found, which included Mr Tyson's DNA.

The trial continues.

 
 

Shawn Tyson trial: Murder accused often carried a gun, court hears

BBC News

March 26, 2012

A teenager accused of murdering two British tourists in Florida often carried a revolver which he fired into the air, a US court has heard.

James Cooper, 25, from Warwickshire and James Kouzaris, 24, from Northampton, were shot dead in Sarasota last April.

Floridian Shawn Tyson, 17, from Sarasota, denies two counts of first degree murder.

His friend Jermaine Bane lives near Mr Tyson and told the court that he regularly saw Mr Tyson carrying a gun.

He told the court he met Mr Tyson about three years ago, they lived within minutes from each other's house and typically spent about 10 hours per day in each other's company.

Shots fired

Mr Bane told jurors he often often saw his friend with a 0.22 calibre revolver in his pocket.

He said he had seen Mr Tyson fire the gun into the air on about four or five occasions.

He said shortly before the tourists died, Mr Tyson had mentioned spotting the Britons walking around the public housing neighbourhood where he lived in Newtown, Sarasota.

Mr Bane told the court he received a phone call from Mr Tyson in which he talked about the British men, who he referred to as the "crackers", meaning white men.

Mr Bane also reported hearing gunshots around the time of the fatal shooting in the early hours of 16 April and said when police searched Mr Tyson's house, he saw his friend throw something into another friend's car.

The two British men were found shot dead and stripped to the waist.

Their trousers had been pulled down to their thighs, but they still had their wallets and a small amount of cash on them.

Murder confession

Mr Kouzaris had been staying with Mr Cooper's family in Longboat Key, an island 12 miles away from where their bodies were found.

Latrece Washington, another of Mr Tyson's friends, told the court how Mr Tyson had described the killings to her and a friend as a failed robbery attempt.

Mr Tyson was with someone else when they spotted the two British men he planned to rob, she said.

She said Mr Tyson had told her the men looked drunk and when he found they had very little cash on them, he told the men, "well since you ain't got no money, I got something for your ass".

Ms Washington told the court: "That's when he like shot one of them in the side and one of them fell instantly and then the other one was crying for his life, and he shot him and emptied the clip on him."

The trial continues.

 
 

Shawn Tyson trial: Sister held 'over Facebook message to witness'

BBC News

March 24, 2012

The sister of a teenager on trial accused of murdering two British tourists in Florida has been charged with retaliating against a witness.

Samantha Huffman is believed to have been arrested over a comment she made on Facebook, directed at Nakeira Keno.

Ms Keno, 21, had given evidence in the trial of Shawn Tyson earlier this week.

Mr Tyson denies murdering James Cooper, 25, of Warwickshire and James Kouzaris, 24, from Northampton, who were shot dead in Sarasota, last April.

Ms Keno told the court on Thursday that she saw the men walking through the public housing complex, known as The Courts, just before the shootings.

That evening Ms Huffman wrote on her Facebook page: "Nakeira Keno.....i hope u got a check for takin the stand...", as well as several insults directed as Ms Keno.

'Exercising free speech'

Sarasota Police Department records show that she has been charged with retaliating against an informant, victim, or witness.

According to the Sarasota Herald Tribune, police said when they questioned her about the Facebook post she told them she was exercising her right to free speech.

Ms Huffman's arrest highlights difficulties police say they faced trying to investigate the murder.

Det John Todd, lead investigator, told the court people did not want to be seen to "rat out" or "snitch" on Mr Tyson.

"This is a very tight group, they were all friends," he said. "They all lived in a very tight-knit small community and they were friends."

"These guys don't want to be labelled as a snitch."

Mr Tyson's defence lawyers have said several witnesses changed their stories once they were offered plea deals, or other benefits, by police.

It is claimed two witnesses were given help moving out of the area, while others are said to be testifying in exchange for lesser sentences for other crimes.

The court has not heard any suggestion that Ms Keno was offered any deal or encouragement to give evidence.

 
 

Shawn Tyson trial: Jurors told of prison phone call

BBC News

March 23, 2012

A teenager accused of murdering two British tourists said on the phone that bullet casings found by police could "f*** him up", a Florida court heard.

The court was played the recording of the call Shawn Tyson, 17, made to his half brother from prison.

Mr Tyson denies murdering James Cooper, 25, of Warwickshire and James Kouzaris, 24, from Northampton, who were shot dead in Sarasota last April.

Mr Tyson allegedly told a friend he had killed the men, the court was told.

Mr Cooper and Mr Kouzaris were found shirtless and with their trousers round their thighs after being shot several times.

Mr Tyson allegedly tried to rob the men who had drunkenly walked into a rundown public housing project in Newtown known as The Courts, the court has heard.

The defendant, who was 16 at the time of the deaths, has been charged as an adult.

'DNA on clothes'

Mr Tyson, who denies two counts of first-degree murder, faces life in prison without parole if convicted.

At the hearing on Friday, the court was played a call Mr Tyson made from Sarasota County Jail which was recorded by police.

In the conversation, Mr Tyson tells his half-brother "Somebody say they saw me out there..", adding: "they found the bullets".

Asked about the discovery, the defendant replies: "It's the only thing that's going to f*** me up."

The jury was told that Mr Tyson's DNA was found on James Cooper's trousers and was shown the bloodstained clothes.

Earlier, Detective John Todd told the court Mr Tyson allegedly told his friend Marvin Gaines he had killed the men.

Prosecutor Karen Frailling asked Mr Todd, the lead detective in the case: "Did Marvin Gaines also say that Shawn Tyson told him 'I killed those two guys, you know those two bodies back there, I did that?"

Mr Todd replied: "He said that Tyson escorted him into the apartment so that nobody else could hear and told him that he killed the two people at the back of the projects."

Mr Gaines told police the defendant had hidden the gun used under his house, then Mr Gaines had passed this to another friend, the court heard.

Mr Cooper, of Hampton Lucy, and Mr Kouzaris were on holiday with Mr Cooper's family when they were killed in the early hours of 16 April.

The detective said "all the evidence pointed to an attempted robbery" as the reason the victims had their trousers pulled down.

Defence lawyer Carolyn Schlemmer told the court few people had been honest with police in the case - some had been threatened while some had been offered plea deals or benefits to encourage them to testify.

She asked Mr Todd: "Very few people in this case were initially truthful to you, correct?"

The officer replied: "Correct."

Jurors heard Mr Gaines was told by police that it was in his interest to be on the side of Sarasota Police Department.

Mr Todd admitted saying: "You could be at the defence table with Shawn, is that where you want to be?"

The court was told Joshua Bane, a witness and friend of Mr Tyson's, was apparently not arrested over reports he was seen waving a gun around the housing project area.

The trial continues.

 
 

Shawn Tyson trial: Shot Britons found 'with shirts off'

BBC News

March 22, 2012

A court has heard that two British men shot dead in Florida last April were found with their shirts off and trousers round their thighs.

Shawn Tyson, 17, is being tried for the murders of James Cooper, 25, from Hampton Lucy, near Warwick, and James Kouzaris, 24, from Northampton.

A court in Sarasota, Florida, heard they had drunkenly walked into the rundown neighbourhood of Newtown.

Mr Tyson has been charged as an adult with two counts of first-degree murder.

He was 16 at the time of the murders and faces life in prison without the possibility of parole if he is convicted.

Mr Tyson's mother, Kenyatta Whitfield, who has been in court since Monday, has repeatedly protested her son's innocence.

Mr Kouzaris and Mr Cooper were in the second week of a three-week holiday with Mr Cooper's family when they were killed in the early hours of 16 April.

'Six to eight gunshots'

The court heard how the pair had been out for a meal with Mr Cooper's parents and then went drinking.

Assistant State Attorney Ed Brodsky, for the prosecution, said they left the Gator Club in Sarasota at about 02:00 local time before wandering into Newtown, a poorer area of the city.

Mr Brodsky told the court that witnesses reported seeing two black males watching the British holiday makers before hearing between six and eight gunshots ring out.

He said that police and fire and rescue services arrived at Carver Court and pronounced the men dead at the scene.

They were found on either side of the road.

Mr Brodsky said: "James Cooper was shirtless, clutching his shirt in his hand, his blue jeans that he was wearing were found pulled down about mid-thigh level.

"He still had his wallet, money, cell phone and camera in his possession."

The court was shown a range of pictures of the crime scene, including one showing Mr Cooper, shirtless and with his trousers near his knees and Mr Kouzaris, whose trousers were also round his thighs.

The court heard there was a trail of blood spots leading to Mr Cooper and Mr Kouzaris also still had his wallet and money on him.

Crime scene investigator Jerry Wagner told the court that Mr Cooper's wallet had a total of $63.45 (40) while Mr Kouzaris's contained $62.05 (39).

Mr Brodsky said a friend of Mr Tyson's, Jermaine Bane, would describe seeing him on the night of the murders.

He said that Mr Bane received a call, which he thought was accidental, from Mr Tyson telling someone there were two white men walking in the area, but then hung up.

He said Mr Bane would say he heard gunshots five or 10 minutes later and Mr Tyson called him to ask if he had heard them.

When he said "yes" Mr Tyson told him to go outside and see if there were any bodies.

Mr Brodsky said Mr Bane also saw Mr Tyson with a 0.22 calibre revolver which he would frequently carry wrapped in a red bandana.

The court heard from witness Nakiera Keno, aged 21, who was driving in the area when she saw Mr Kouzaris and Mr Cooper walking in Newtown.

Ms Keno, who had friends in the car with her, said they had "no shirts, baggy jeans, no shoes" and also saw two black men who "looked young".

She said the two white men were just standing "like they were waiting on some drugs or something".

Ms Keno then heard gunshots, prompting her to turn her music down. She drove back round past the scene, she said, and saw the two white men on the ground.

'Pleaded with gunman'

Mr Brodsky said that one witness said Mr Cooper and Mr Kouzaris had pleaded with Mr Tyson to let them go, that they were drunk and that they were just trying to find their way home.

He said: "Mr Tyson had boasted to one witness that he began shooting them both."

Another witness, Marvin Gaines, said Mr Tyson told him he had put the gun under his house and buried seven shell casings from that weapon in his yard.

When he asked why, Mr Tyson told him: "Those two bodies back there, I did that."

Mr Brodsky said police searched Mr Tyson's bedroom on the evening of 16 April and found a 0.22 calibre bullet, and that his DNA was found on Mr Cooper's jeans.

Mr Wagner, the crime scene investigator, told the court he had recovered seven 0.22 calibre bullet casings from a nearby yard after the shootings.

Carolyn Schlemmer, for the defence, told the jury: "The evidence in this case will show no murder weapon or a weapon believed to even be a murder weapon was ever recovered in this case."

She said the gun and bullet casings found were not linked directly to Mr Tyson but to the people who had given them to police.

She said a 0.22 calibre gun and 0.22 calibre bullets were some of the most common in the world.

Friends of Mr Cooper and Mr Kouzaris, Paul Davies and Joe Hallett, were in court on Thursday, but did not want to comment.

The trial continues.

 
 

Florida teenager accused of killing two British tourists goes on trial

Shawn Tyson, 17, alleged to have shot James Kouzaris, 24, and James Cooper, 25, in Sarasota last year

By Richard Luscombe - Guardian.co.uk

March 19, 2012

A teenager charged with the murder of two British friends as they enjoyed a Florida holiday almost a year ago will go on trial on Monday as prosecutors hope to uncover the truth about the men's final moments.

Shawn Tyson, whose 17th birthday is also on Monday, is accused of shooting James Kouzaris, 24, and James Cooper, 25, both former students at the University of Sheffield, during a confrontation in Newtown, a ghetto in Sarasota, in the early hours of 16 April 2011.

Although Tyson was arrested and charged soon after the killings, detectives were unable to establish exactly what led the victims into the crime-plagued neighbourhood 12 miles from their holiday home in upmarket Longboat Key after a night out.

Inquiries were hampered by the community's distrust of the police and an atmosphere of violence and intimidation, while key eyewitness testimony against Tyson was secured from a neighbour only after she was moved into a home outside the area for her own safety.

"Witnesses were very reluctant at first, mostly because of the fear of retaliation or the no-snitching rule," said assistant state attorney Karen Fraivillig, who will present the prosecution's case.

"But I can't praise the detectives in the case highly enough. They told me the witnesses knew more than they were saying and they kept going back until they got them to talk.

"This is about justice for two beautiful children, bright, athletic, charming young men in the prime of their life who were killed for no reason."

Tyson, who denies two counts of wilful premeditated murder, faces a life sentence if convicted. The trial is expected to last a week and a half. Although he is being tried as an adult, Florida law prohibits the death penalty for anyone under 18 at the time of a crime.

Cooper, a part-time tennis coach from Warwick, and Kouzaris, a seasoned traveller from Northampton, who had recently spent time in Argentina, Brazil and Ecuador, had been in the US for about 10 days of their three-week holiday and were staying at an apartment with Cooper's parents.

They ate a meal together on the evening of 15 April before the two men set off for an evening out in Sarasota, where they were captured on CCTV drinking and talking to women in several city centre bars.

Police released images of the pair in a bar called Smokin' Joes as they tried to piece together details of what they called the "crucial lost hour" between closing time at 2am and the first 911 call from a Newtown resident at 2.56am reporting gunfire and "a white dude laid out on the ground".

The first officers to arrive found the friends' shirtless bodies, each with multiple gunshot wounds, on opposite sides of the street. One witness reported seeing them running in separate directions while a neighbour, Wanda Farrior, told police she saw Tyson clambering through a window into his mother's house moments later.

Physical evidence to be presented during the trial will include bullet casings allegedly buried by the defendant and later revealed to police by an informant, and text messages said to have been sent to and from Tyson's mobile phone immediately after the shootings.

A former friend of the accused, Joshua Bane, will tell the jury that he helped clean and dispose of the suspected murder weapon, a .22 calibre pistol that Tyson is believed to have also used in another crime nine days previously.

Prosecutors scored a significant victory at a pretrial hearing last week when circuit court judge Rick DeFuria said he would allow jurors to hear details of an incident on 7 April 2011 in which Tyson is accused of using the same gun to shoot at the car of a family with whom he was feuding.

None of the victims' parents, Peter and Hazel Kouzaris and Stan and Sandy Cooper, plan to travel to Florida. Mrs Kouzaris said last month it was still painful to look at photographs of her son and that the thought of anyone forgetting him was unbearable.

But Paul Davies and Joe Hallett, friends of the men, plan to attend the trial. The two are co-founders and directors of Always a Chance, a charity set up in the victims' memory to tackle youth crime in Britain.

Community leaders say the murders have led to improvements in the Newtown area, including the installation of video cameras on street corners that they say have helped reduce crime.

"As unfortunate as this was, and as hard as it was that this happened here, the community has come together and is working together with a new feeling of optimism," said the Rev Wade Harvin, chairman of Newtown's community development board.

"People realise that we have to work collectively with the police to make sure that the crime rate drops and not live in fear of over-the-top individuals."

 
 

Florida teenager charged with killing British pair 'confessed to cellmate'

Shawn Tyson has denied April murder of James Cooper and James Kouzaris in Newtown, Sarasota

By Richard Luscombe - Guardian.co.uk

June 14, 2011

A youth accused of shooting dead two British holidaymakers in a crime-ridden Florida neighbourhood confessed to a fellow inmate shortly after he was arrested, according to newly released court documents.

Shawn Tyson, 16, has denied killing James Cooper, 25, and James Kouzaris, 24, as they staggered drunkenly through Newtown, Sarasota, in the early hours of 16 April after a night out drinking.

But, according to prosecutors, Tyson told the prisoner: "Yeah, I did it" only 24 hours after the shooting. The inmate said he asked what had happened and Tyson replied: "It's trill," a slang word for "gangster".

In a recorded phone call from the Sarasota county jail to another witness known only as "brother", Tyson apparently lamented the discovery by detectives of bullets at his house of the same calibre used to murder the Britons. "They found the bullets. That's the only thing that's going to fuck me up," he told the friend.

The same witness told police Tyson claimed he approached the Britons from behind after watching them stagger along the road and that he went to "fire off" at them because he assumed they were trying to break into a vehicle.

The new details come in about 300 pages of documents released by the state attorney's office in Sarasota that set out the largely circumstantial case against Tyson, who has been in custody for almost two months after being charged as an adult on two counts of first degree homicide.

Included are witness statements that shed light for the first time on how Cooper and Kouzaris travelled to The Courts housing project, seven miles from the upmarket Longboat Key resort where they were enjoying a three-week holiday with Cooper's family.

The question had puzzled detectives for weeks until a taxi driver came forward to report that he remembered picking up two men "with British accents" at the Smokin' Joes bar in central Sarasota and driving them to a 7-Eleven late-night grocery store in Newtown.

Kouzaris, from Northampton, and Cooper, from Warwick, were caught on CCTV drinking in the bar just before closing time, about an hour before they were found dead in the street in Newtown, two miles away, shirtless and with multiple gunshot wounds.

Medical records released by the Sarasota coroner, meanwhile, show that the pair, who became friends as students at the University of Sheffield, had blood alcohol levels more than three times Florida's legal limit for driving.

Although the documents reveal how the pair got to Newtown, they appear to stoke further speculation as to what they were doing there. A neighbour who lives close to the murder scene allegedly told police that she believed one of the Britons had previously visited her neighbour's boyfriend.

Another female resident of The Courts, listed only as a "confidential informant", told detectives that she saw Tyson leaping in through the open window of his mother's house within moments of the shooting.

She identified Tyson as one of two people she saw running away. She said she heard shots then a neighbour told her that someone had been killed.

Sarasota police, who have previously admitted they were seeking a second suspect, are investigating another shooting in Newtown, in which a 21-year-old was killed.

Willie Hadley, 21, who lived less than a mile from where Cooper and Kouzaris were shot, was gunned down during the early hours of Monday on Martin Luther Way, five blocks from the scene of the April shooting. Police called to the scene at 2am found Hadley, who had been released from jail only a few days previously, lying dead in the road after local residents reported hearing gunfire.

Tyson's trial is expected to take place next year. He faces a probable life sentence if convicted.

 
 

Florida suspect in Britons' deaths 'should have been in custody'

Sarasota paper says Florida police failed to attend court hearing Shawn Tyson was freed hours before James Cooper and James Kouzaris were murdered

By Richard Luscombe - Guardian.co.uk

April 22, 2011

A Florida judge warned that a teenager was "a danger to the community" and should remain in custody, only for a colleague to free him hours before he is alleged to have shot dead two British tourists in Sarasota.

Shawn Tyson of Newtown, Sarasota, was arrested for killing James Cooper, 25, and James Kouzaris, 24, the day after their bodies were found with multiple gunshot wounds on a street in the crime-plagued neighbourhood.

But it has emerged that the 16-year-old, who had dropped out of school and is believed to have had a troubled home life, should not have been back on the streets at all after an earlier arrest for gun crime.

Detectives failed to appear as ordered at a 15 April hearing into an episode in which Tyson fired a weapon during a fight, and juvenile bench judge Deno Economou unaware of the concerns of Sarasota's chief judge Lee Haworth at an earlier hearing released him from jail into the custody of his mother.

It was the last in a number of "prosecutorial missteps and a series of communication problems" cited by the Sarasota Herald-Tribune newspaper that led to the fatal confrontation between Tyson and the British friends, who had been enjoying a night out in the early hours of Saturday during a three-week holiday in Florida.

Tyson was charged with aggravated assault and remanded as an adult over the earlier incident, which means there is now no chance he can be sent to a juvenile facility to await his formal indictment on the two murder charges in two weeks' time.

Detectives are still trying to work out what brought Cooper, of Warwick, and Kouzaris, from Northampton, into an area of town notorious for gang activity at 3am, but are working on several theories, including that they took a wrong turn as they looked for food after leaving a bar, or were ordered there at gunpoint before being robbed and killed.

According to the Herald-Tribune, Tyson was first arrested on 7 April for firing a gun into a car at another youth with whom he had been engaged in a feud. A Newtown resident told the paper that Tyson and her brother had fallen out and Tyson waved a revolver at them and threatened to kill them, shortly before firing.

"There's continuing potential escalation between these alleged victims and [Tyson will remain in custody] to help defuse this situation, but particularly because of the danger it presents to the community with a young 16-year-old handling a firearm," Judge Haworth said at Tyson's initial hearing on 8 April. He ordered that detectives appear at the hearing before Judge Economou a week later, but they failed to do so and prosecutors did not pass on Haworth's warning.

The Sarasota Police department announced it was no longer talking to reporters, and nobody was available for comment at the Sarasota courthouse, which was closed for the Easter holidays.

Meanwhile, the bodies of the Britons are believed to be back in the UK after their release by a coroner.

An announcement about funeral arrangements is expected soon.

 
 

Two Britons shot dead during Florida holiday in notorious gang area

Police arrest 16-year-old on suspicion of murder of James Kouzaris, 24, and James Cooper, 25, in Newtown, Sarasota

By Richard Luscombe - Guardian.co.uk

April 18, 2011

Two British holidaymakers have been shot and killed in Florida in what police believe may have been a botched robbery.

James Kouzaris, 24, and James Cooper, 25, former students at the University of Sheffield, were found dead in Newtown, a crime-ridden neighbourhood of Sarasota, at about 3am on Saturday.

Police have arrested a 16-year-old on suspicion of murder but were unable to provide any further details about what the two friends were doing in the early hours of the morning in an area of the city notorious for gang activity. "That is one of the key things we are investigating, just why they were there," Captain Paul Sutton of the Sarasota police department told the Guardian.

"At approximately 3am on 16 April, Sarasota police officers responded to a 911 call, the caller advised that a person was lying on the ground covered in blood.

"Officers checking the area located two male victims."

Despite local reports to the contrary, no bullet casings were found at the scene, Sutton said. Neither of the victims was carrying a weapon. Additionally, no trace of drugs nor an abnormally large amount of money was found.

"There is no link between the victims and the suspect," Sutton said. "A 16-year-old male, a resident of Sarasota, was arrested on two counts of murder and it's likely he'll be indicted on those charges as an adult at a later date."

Florida is one of the states that still has the death penalty on its statutes.

The crime scene is a far cry from the sugar-sand beaches and luxurious resorts of Longboat Key, 12 miles away, where police said that Cooper and Kouzaris had been staying.

Newtown, situated on the mainland north of Sarasota's downtown area, is an economically depressed, social housing district with high unemployment, a history of gang violence and a crime rate higher than any other area of the city.

According to his Facebook page, Kouzaris had spent most of the past few months touring South America, posting pictures of his travels from Argentina, Brazil and Ecuador.

He returned to the UK at the end of last month before setting off again a week later to Florida with Cooper, a part-time tennis coach he befriended when they were students together at the University of Sheffield.

An acquaintance of Cooper in the UK told the Guardian: "It's a shock. They were just enjoying a two-week break away from everything."

The two victims exchanged messages on Facebook before their trip in which expressed how much they were looking forward to going to Florida and their holiday.

The British consulate in Miami issued a statement saying that next of kin had been notified. Officials from a consular office in Orlando were believed to be heading to Sarasota to offer assistance.

Police, meanwhile, said a press conference was scheduled to take place at 10am on Monday. The suspect is currently being held at the Sarasota county jail.

 

 

 
 
 
 
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