TWO former Sheffield University students were found shot dead with their shirts off and trousers round their thighs after they drunkenly walked into a rundown neighbourhood in a Florida city, a court heard today.
James Cooper, 25, and James Kouzaris, 24, were killed after they walked into Newtown in Sarasota in April last year.
Shawn Tyson, who turned 17 on Monday, is charged with two counts of first-degree murder.
Opening the prosecution case today after three days of jury selection at Sarasota Court, Assistant State Attorney Ed Brodsky said: “The reason that you are here today and what this case is about are the tragic events that occurred just shortly less than a year ago.
“April 16 2011, at approximately three in the morning, two British men who were here on vacation would find that they would die at the hands of gunfire.”
Pointing at Tyson, who wore an orange shirt and tie, he said: “The evidence will conclusively demonstrate to you that this man right here is responsible for the deaths of James Cooper and James Kouzaris.
“You will find that this case is about two different sets of boys, men, who seized opportunities.”
Mr Brodsky told the court that friends Mr Kouzaris and Mr Cooper were in the second week of a three-week holiday.
“They travelled approximately 4,500 miles to be here and you are going to hear that just three days prior to James Cooper’s death he had just turned 25 years old.
“James Kouzaris was 24 years old and that the evening leading to this event they were with James Cooper’s parents, they had travelled abroad with James Cooper’s mother, James Cooper’s father and a friend of theirs.”
Mr Brodsky described how the men had been out for a meal with Mr Cooper’s parents, then went drinking while the latter took the car back to Longboat Key, where they had rented a condominium for the holiday.
Mr Kouzaris and Mr Cooper left the Gator Club in downtown Sarasota, where they had been drinking, at about 2am.
“And you are going to learn that at approximately 2.56am in the morning, that residents and neighbours in the Newtown area would report hearing between six and eight gunshots ring out in the neighbourhood.”
He said when police and fire and rescue services arrived at the scene, on Carver Court, in the public housing project known as The Courts, they found the men on either side of the road, shot dead.
“In a grassy patch they would find James Cooper, shirtless, clutching his shirt in his hand, his blue jeans that he was wearing would be found pulled down about mid-thigh level.
“Police would also find that James Cooper still had his wallet in his possession, he still had his money in his possession, he still had his cellphone and his camera in his possession.
“Directly across the street from James Cooper the police would find the body of James Kouzaris and James Kouzaris would be found with his pants pulled down to the thigh level.
“He would also be shirtless and police and fire would find his shirt tucked into the back of his pants.
“But as they found James Cooper, they would find James Kouzaris had his wallet and he had his money still in his possession.”
Both men were pronounced dead at the scene, he said.
The court heard that autopsies showed Mr Cooper was shot four times - three of the bullets went straight through his body.
The fatal shot went into his chest, perforated his left lung and ended up in his heart.
Mr Kouzaris had been shot twice in the back, Mr Brodsky said. He was killed by a bullet which perforated his spleen, diaphragm, left lung and his heart.
He told the court the bullets were from a 0.22 calibre weapon.
Mr Brodsky said one witness, who was staying with his girlfriend, would describe hearing noise outside at about 2.45am.
“He saw two white males walking eastbound down Carver or Gore Court.
“He would describe the two men as being shirtless, he would describe the men as appearing to be drunk because they stumbled and he would describe that as the two men walked down the street that he saw two black males crouching and watching them as they walked by.
“He will then tell you that approximately one minute or so later he heard gunshots ring out and that several minutes thereafter the police would arrive.”
Another witness, who was driving with her girl friends, described seeing two white men, shirtless, and two black men standing in front of them.
“She will describe one of those black males as wearing a red bandana covering his face,” Mr Brodsky said.
“And as she drove past she heard a series of gunshots go off. She will tell you that she drove back to the area and saw these two while males lying on the ground.”