A TEENAGER who shot dead two former Sheffield University students after they drunkenly staggered into a run-down neighbourhood of a Florida city while on holiday boasted about the killings afterwards, a court heard yesterday.
James Kouzaris, 24, and James Cooper, 25, were found without their shirts on, and with their trousers down around their thighs, after they were killed in the Newtown area of Sarasota last April.
Mr Kouzaris, from Northampton, and Mr Cooper, of Hampton Lucy, near Warwick, were on holiday together with Mr Cooper’s parents in the upmarket island city of Longboat Key, about 12 miles from the crime scene.
On the night they died, the pair had been out drinking after a meal in central Sarasota. They then walked from the city’s Main Street to the public housing project, known as The Courts, about 20 blocks away, where they were killed.
Shawn Tyson, 17, faces two counts of first-degree murder. If found guilty, he faces life in jail without the possibility of parole.
Opening the prosecution case in Sarasota yesterday, prosecutor Ed Brodsky 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.”
The murder weapon has never been found, but the prosecution claims witnesses have linked bullet casings matching those that killed the men to Tyson, and he was often seen carrying a gun matching the one that is believed to have been used.
But defence lawyers say there is nothing to link the teenager directly and several witnesses have changed their evidence because of deals or benefits offered to them by the prosecution.
Mr Brodsky told the court that Mr Kouzaris and Mr Cooper left a nightclub called the Gator Club at about 2am on April 16, and at about 2.56am neighbours in Newtown heard shots.
When emergency services arrived at the scene they found the men on either side of the road.
“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”, Mr Brodsky said.
“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.”
Both men still had their wallets and money on them, and were pronounced dead at the scene.
Post-mortem examinations showed Mr Cooper was shot four times, while Mr Kouzaris was shot twice in the back.
Mr Brodsky said some witnesses described frequently seeing Tyson carrying a revolver, which he wrapped in a red bandana.
He told the court one person would give evidence they saw Tyson jumping into the window of his home shortly after the gunshots, while another claims the teenager boasted about shooting the Britons after trying to rob them.
Mr Brodsky said Tyson had told a witness: “He and another male saw the two men as they walked by and they decided to rob them.
“When Shawn Tyson confronts the victims they plead with Shawn Tyson to let them go, that they were drunk and that they were just trying to find their way home.
“They then tell Shawn Tyson that they don’t have any money to give him.”
The prosecutor said Tyson boasted that he said: “Well, since you ain’t got no money then I have something for your a***”, then began firing.
The teenager is said to have told another witness he had “done ’em”.
But in her opening statement, public defender Carolyn Schlemmer said: “Shawn Tyson did not murder James Cooper and James Kouzaris on April 16 of 2011.”
She said no murder weapon was ever recovered, and the bullet casings found were not linked directly to Tyson.
Witness Trevor Clyburn told the court that he was staying with a friend in the area when he saw two white men walking down the street.
“They both had no shirts on, they were visibly drunk, they were staggering,” he said.
He said he saw two figures standing in the darkness watching the men walk by. Moments later, he heard gunshots.
The trial continues.