Belfast Telegraph

Monday 22 September 2014

Florida police charge teenager with murders of two British friends

Shawn Tyson, 16, has been arrested in connection with the murders of British holidaymakers James Cooper and James Kouzaris in Florida (AP)

A 16-year-old boy has been charged with two counts of murder after two British holidaymakers were gunned down in Florida.

Last night police named the boy as Shawn Tyson.

University friends James Cooper (25) and James Kouzaris (24) were found shot dead in a narrow street in an impoverished part of the city of Sarasota on the state's south-west coast.

They were lying 50ft away from each other when police arrived, responding to a 911 call at 3am.

Detectives have been trying to piece together how the victims had arrived in an area known for gang-related activity in the early hours of Saturday morning.

Police said it was “very unusual” to find tourists in that particular area, Newtown, and investigators were trying to determine how the two friends ended up 12 miles away from the island resort town of Longboat Key, where they were staying on holiday. Captain Paul Sutton, of the Sarasota Police Department, said: “It is a residential neighbourhood with no shops and no bars. We do not know what brought them here at 3am.”

A detention hearing was held on Monday for the boy, who has so far been charged as a juvenile, the Sarasota Herald-Tribune newspaper reported.

A Sarasota criminal defence attorney, Peter Collins, said: “It's a foregone conclusion he is going to be charged as an adult.”

A police source said that the boy has at least one previous arrest.

The two victims had been on a night out in downtown Sarasota and had made their way to the housing project some distance away. Police said the area is known for having a “higher than normal” crime rate.

“The mystery is that they were on a night out in Sarasota and somehow they got from downtown to this residential area and they did not have a car. That is what we are looking into,” Captain Sutton said.

He said the Britons were carrying neither drugs nor weapons, nor an unusually large amount of money. Mr Kouzaris, from Northampton, was on a three-week holiday in Florida, staying with Mr Cooper and his family. The two became friends during their time studying together at the University of Sheffield.

Friends and family paid tribute to the pair on Monday. In a statement released through Northamptonshire Police, Mr Kouzaris's family said: “James was a wonderful son. We loved him so much and we can't believe he has gone. We are absolutely devastated and in a state of complete shock.”

Mr Cooper was a tennis coach and played Andy Murray in a junior tennis tournament. A friend and former coach, James Roe, from Kenilworth Tennis Club, said: “He started off as a pupil but he became a really good friend... he was an only child and was the apple of his mum and dad's eye. He was a model student.”

Background

Florida retains the death penalty for certain offences but murder suspect Shawn Tyson (16) would not qualify for it if he was convicted as a juvenile.

However, the authorities have stated their intention to try him as an adult. Officers can hold him for 21 days.

Florida administers executions by lethal injection or electric chair at the execution chamber located at Florida State Prison. The average length of stay on Death Row prior to execution in Florida is 12.68 years, according to its Department of Corrections.

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