Rosa Prince, Telegraph (London), March 29, 2012
The families of two British tourists gunned down on a crime-ridden Florida estate after taking a wrong turn described their teenage murderer as “evil” last night.
University friends James Cooper, 25, and James Kouzaris, 25, had been enjoying a care-free vacation in the popular holiday resort of Sarasota when a drunken mistake brought them into the path of 16-year-old Shawn Tyson.
Spotting them stumbling through the notorious estate known as The Courts, Tyson attempted to rob the pair, then shot them each through the heart when they claimed to have no money.
A jury at Sarasota County Court took just over two hours to find him guilty of first degree murder following an eight-day trial.
The devastated families issued a statement, saying; “Ours is a life sentence, with no chance of parole from a broken heart, and a shattered soul”.
Tyson, who turned 17 on the first day of his trial, and now faces life in prison without parole, was caught after boasting to friends about the murders.
When the men had told him they had no cash on them, he told them: “If you ain’t got no money — I got something for you ass,” before firing.
Mr Kouzaris was killed first, and Tyson later told a female friend that Mr Cooper was “crying for his life” before he too was shot.
The teenager stared straight ahead of him as moving tributes two the bright, successful, happy friends were played on videos provided by the Cooper and Kouzaris families.
On a video impact statement, Mr Kouzaris’s father James said it was ironic that his son had travelled the world and visited many dangerous countries but had been “murdered in cold blood” in the holiday destination of Florida.
“James was the perfect, son and brother. These last few months had been unbearable,” he added.
His wife Hazel said: “I can’t feel sorry for the murderer but I do have some sympathy for his mother. Like me she will not have any grandchildren from her son.”
In a statement, Mr Cooper’s parents said: “Anyone who has lost a child will know there are no words which can express the despair, disbelief and desolation. We will miss him every minute of every day in a home that now feels empty.”
Tyson, who is in fact already a father, slumped down in his seat as a video featuring images of Mr Cooper growing up was then played to the court.
Two close friends of the victims, who had attended court throughout the trial, were also permitted to address the court.
One, Joe Hallett choked back tears as he addressed Tyson, saying: “I want to look you in the eye and speak to you directly and to try and make you understand the pain and suffering you have brought to so many people.
“Every morning I want you to think about my friends until your very last breath. I hope they haunt your thoughts forever. I hope you and your family suffer every single second of every single day.”
Tyson was offered the chance to say something but declined. While he was led away in handcuffs, his mother shouted: “I love you Shawn.”
Successful young men with loving families, Mr Cooper, a tennis coach from Hampton Lucy, Warwicks, met Mr Kouzaris, a town planner from Northampton, while they were studying at Sheffield University.
They were enjoying a happy holiday in Sarasota last April and had been for a meal with Mr Cooper’s parents Stanley and Sandy in an area popular with British tourists when they decided to continue their evening at two late-night bars.
Police believe the friends may have been hoping to visit an all-night restaurant when they wandered, drunk, into The Courts, a dimly-lit, dangerous estate known for drug dealing and violence.
Shawn Tyson, a high-school drop out who had the word “Savage” tattooed across the chest, had been released from prison in error the day before, after spraying a car carrying a group of teenage girls with gunfire.
Officials had decided that he was too dangerous to release, but the message was not passed to the prosecutor involved in his case, and he was freed after a three-minute hearing.
During the trial, witnesses told how Tyson had boasted that he had spotted the clearly drunk friends weaving their way through the estate, before confronting them.
The murder victims were found shirtless and with their trousers pulled down — hallmarks, police testified, of a street robbery and done to stop them running away. Tyson’s DNA was later found on the front of Mr Cooper’s jeans.
In fact, the men each had about £40 in their pockets, along with mobile phones and a digital camera.
Speaking outside the court, Tyson’s father Tyronne said that the trial was not fair, and that he would appeal against the sentence.
He went on: “To the families of Cooper and Kouzaris, our deepest sympathies go out to them. Nothing we say will ever bring their kids back to them.
“Three families’ lives have been destroyed. Two will never see their children again and one family’s child just lost his freedom for the rest of his life.”