Britons killed in Florida were 'shot dead over robbery'

The trial of Shawn Tyson, accused of murdering James Kouzaris and James Cooper, began today

Sarasota

Two British men were shot dead after telling a teenager who tried to rob them in Florida that they had no money, a court heard today.

James Kouzaris, 24, and James Cooper, 25, were found without their shirts on, and with their trousers round their thighs, after they were killed in the rundown Newtown area of Sarasota last April.

The men were on holiday with Mr Cooper's family and were staying in Longboat Key, but had been out drinking after a meal in central Sarasota.

They had walked from the city's Main Street to the public housing project, known as The Courts, about 20 blocks away, when they were killed.

Shawn Tyson, who turned 17 on Monday, is charged with two counts of first-degree murder. If found guilty, the teenager faces life in jail without the possibility of parole.

Opening the prosecution case in Sarasota today, 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 today 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 police and fire and rescue services arrived at the scene, on Carver Court, 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.

"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."

The court heard that both men were pronounced dead at the scene. Post-mortem examinations 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 was shot twice in the back, and was killed by a bullet which perforated his spleen, diaphragm, left lung and his heart.

The court heard the bullets were from a 0.22 calibre weapon.

Mr Brodsky said some witnesses described frequently seeing Tyson carrying a revolver, which he wrapped in a red bandana.

One person will give evidence that 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, he tells her, when he 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 arse!", then began shooting them both.

The teenager is said to have told another witness he had "done 'em", referring to the two Britons.

Witness Marvin Gaines said Tyson told him he had hidden a gun under his house, which he later passed to someone else.

He also led police to bullet casings that he had buried in his yard - which he claims he did for Tyson.

The court heard that a police search of Tyson's bedroom on the evening of April 16 found a 0.22 calibre bullet.

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.

She told the court: "You will hear about several witnesses and you are going to hear a lot, you will hear about their deals, their benefits, what they got from this case, promises made to them.

"You will hear pressures and threats used against these witnesses by the Sarasota Police Department and the State's Attorney's Office."

Witness Trevor Cliburn told the court today that he was staying with a friend in the area.

He said he heard a voice shout "Yo", then looked out of the window to see 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.

Mercure Keno, 21, was driving in the area when she spotted Mr Kouzaris and Mr Cooper walking in Newtown.

She said they had "no shirts, baggy jeans, no shoes".

Ms Keno, who had friends in the car with her, said she also saw two black men, who "looked young".

"One of them had no shirt and a red bandana over their nose and mouth and a black hat," she said.

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.

Carly Brownfield, a barmaid in the Gator Club, said the men walked in just after she called last orders at around 2am.

They ordered a drink, then left at 2.20am at the latest, she said.

The men's friends, Paul Davies and Joe Hallett, were in court today, but did not want to comment.

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

The court has heard that Tyson's DNA was found on Mr Cooper's jeans.

PA

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