US teen accused of murdering British tourists 'regularly carried a gun'


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The Independent US

A friend of a teenager accused of murdering two British tourists in Florida received a phone call from him just before they were shot dead saying he had seen the "crackers", or white men, walking in the area, a court heard today.

Jermaine Bane, 21, said he regularly saw Shawn Tyson carrying a gun, and had seen him fire it into the air several times.

Tyson is accused of the murders of James Kouzaris, 24, and James Cooper, 25, who were gunned down in the impoverished Newtown area of Sarasota, Florida, in April last year.

The friends, who were holidaying with Mr Cooper's family, drunkenly walked into a rundown public housing project known as The Courts.

It is alleged Tyson tried to rob them in the early hours of April 16, 2011, then shot them several times when they said they had no money.

They were found shirtless with their trousers round their thighs, but still both had their wallets and a small amount of money on them.

Tyson, 17, denies two counts of first-degree murder. If convicted he faces life in jail without parole.

His friend Mr Bane today told the court he received several phone calls from Tyson both before and after he heard gunshots in the early hours of April 16.

He also told the court when police arrived to search Tyson's house later that day, he saw the teenager - then 16 - throw something into a friend's car.

Mr Bane said he had been friends with Tyson for about three years. They lived less than two minutes from each other and would often spend around 10 hours a day together.

He said he often saw Tyson carrying a 0.22 calibre revolver, usually in his pocket, and had seen him fire it into the air in the area, known by locals as "the projects", about four or five times.

On the evening of April 15, 2011, Mr Bane, Tyson, and two friends spent the evening together "smoking and chilling", and visited a Jamaican Club nearby.

The four split up just after midnight, with Mr Bane and one friend going to Mr Bane's house, while Tyson headed in a different direction, the court heard.

Mr Bane told the court he received a phone call from Tyson asking if he got home, but heard him carry on speaking, although he did not think Tyson was talking to him.

He said he heard Tyson say: "Who are those crackers walking past the park?"

Mr Bane said: "I kept saying 'hello', to see if he knew I was still on the phone."

But Tyson did not answer and Bane hung up the phone.

Shortly afterwards, he heard gunshots.

Mr Bane said after that his brother Jarius started "beating down the door", adding: "He was very loud like he was scared, like he was about to knock the door down."

His brother was saying "they're dead, they're dead", he told the court.

Mr Bane said Tyson then called him asking if he had heard gunshots and did he know what happened, and if "anybody got hit".

"I told him, 'I don't know 'cus I'm not out there'," he said.

"I wouldn't go out there because I didn't want to step into crossfire or anything."

He said Tyson called him again, and asked him "repeatedly" to go out and see if the people were dead, but he refused.

Later that day, when police arrived to search Tyson's house, Mr Bane said he saw Tyson throw something into a friend's car.

"He went over to the car. He opened the door and threw something in.

"He leaned towards under the seat, the driver's seat."

Mr Bane originally told police he did not know anything about what had happened because he did not want "the image of being a snitch", he said.

The court heard he was arrested in May and charged with carrying a concealed weapon, but the charge was reduced in seriousness in exchange for giving evidence in the Tyson trial.

Last week the court heard that phone records showed a series of calls were made to and from mobile phones registered to Tyson and Mr Bane just before 3am - around the time of the killing.

The court also heard Mr Bane was heard to make a comment that it was the phone calls that had "f***ed him up".

Today he said: "If it wasn't for the phone calls I wouldn't have been getting questioned.

"I didn't want to be put in the situation where I had to snitch or anything like that."

Another friend, Treshaun Simmons, said he had been with Tyson and Mr Bane that night, and when the group split up, he went to Mr Bane's house with him, and shortly after, they both heard gunshots.

Mr Simmons also told the court he had gone to Tyson's house on April 15 to get some bullets.

He said: "I needed bullets for my gun. I walked into Shawn's room....I got a pack of bullets that weren't open."

Mr Kouzaris was from Northampton and Mr Cooper was from Hampton Lucy, Warwick.

The court heard Mr Bane was told by detectives that if he did not tell the truth, a "whole load of s**t is about to fall on the Bane family".

The court heard Tyson was arrested on April 7 - nine days before the murders - after gunshots were fired in the Newtown area.

William Schwenk, an officer with the Sarasota Police Department, told the court he was called to reports of gunshots.

He said there were "numerous people running around" and said he saw Tyson running away.

After a conversation with the teenager's mother, he went into his house and found Tyson in his bedroom.

Officer Timothy Van Schultz said he went to Tyson's house because they had received information that the "perpetrator" had gone into it.

He said Tyson's mother Kenyatta Whitfield gave them permission to go into the house - when they went inside they saw Tyson wearing shorts and no shirt, and a tattoo saying "savage" across his upper chest.

The prosecution asked Tyson to show the court the tattoo, but Judge Rick de Furia ruled he did not have to.

Mr Van Schultz said during a search of Tyson's bedroom, he found two 0.22 calibre bullets in a bin that contained football equipment.