Florida suspect released hours before murders

Click to follow
The Independent US

A blunder by US prosecutors may have led to the release of the teenager charged with murdering two British holidaymakers in Florida last week, hours before he is alleged to have carried out the killings.

James Cooper, 25, and James Kouzaris, 24, were shot dead in the early hours of Saturday last week in a crime-ridden part of the Gulf Coast state described by police as a "no-go" area for tourists. Shawn Tyson, 16, has been charged with two counts of first-degree homicide.

The teenager was labelled "a danger to the community" by Chief Judge Lee Haworth at a court appearance on 8 April for an earlier gun charge, who recommended he stay in custody.

Mr Tyson was first arrested on 7 April for firing a gun at a car belonging to someone he had been involved in an altercation with. But Mr Tyson was then released on 15 April by Juvenile Judge Deno Economou, who was not aware of Haworth's concerns, at a hearing which was not attended by detectives familiar with the case as was requested by Haworth. At 3am the next morning Tyson is alleged to have shot and killed the two Britons.

"There's continuing potential escalation between these alleged victims," Chief Judge Haworth said during the hearing on 8 April.

He had recommended Tyson stay in custody "to help diffuse this situation", but particularly because of the danger a 16-year-old handling a firearm presented to the community. The "prosecutorial missteps and a series of communication problems" were cited by the Sarasota Herald-Tribune newspaper as leading to the release of Mr Tyson against the advice of the Chief Judge.

In a sign that prosecutors recognised the initial mistake, the aggravated assault charges relating to the first arrest on gun charges were filed again yesterday.

This time, Mr Tyson was charged as an adult for five counts of aggravated battery, meaning he will remain in an adult jail while he faces murder charges.