Florida Teen Receives Life Sentence for Murder of UK Tourists; Some Brits Are Upset at the Silence of Obama

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.”

SOURCE: TAMARA LUSH, Associated Press