Fla. man heads to trial in UK tourists shooting

AP News
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Posted: Mar 20, 2012 11:49 AM
Fla. man heads to trial in UK tourists shooting

Jury selection was under way Tuesday for the trial of a Florida teen accused of shooting dead two British tourists who may have wandered into the wrong neighborhood after a night of drinking.

Shawn Tyson, who turned 17 on Monday, is facing two first-degree murder charges. Authorities say Tyson shot and killed British tourists James Kouzaris and James Cooper last April 16th.

Tyson, who has been held in the Sarasota County Jail without bail, faces life in prison if convicted. He was arrested a day after Kouzaris and Cooper's bodies were found in The Courts, a housing development where Tyson lived.

The slayings drew the attention of U.K. media and one British tabloid ran the headline: "Gunned Down in the Ghetto."

Sarasota Police have never said why Kouzaris and Cooper were in the housing project in the early morning hours of April 16. Kouzaris, who was 24 and Cooper, 25, had spent the night of April 15 having dinner with Cooper's parents and then bar-hopping in downtown Sarasota.

The two young men were staying in Longboat Key, some 12 miles from Sarasota's downtown, in a condo shared with Cooper's parents. Surveillance cameras captured images of the men talking to a group of women and drinking. Authorities later found that Kouzaris' blood alcohol level was .243 and Cooper's was .214 _ well past Florida's legal limit for intoxication, which is .08.

Despite Cooper's mother's advice that the men to take a cab back to the beach condo, they walked away from the downtown Sarasota area and into the heart of the city's housing projects.

According to the Herald-Tribune newspaper, a man inside a home in the housing project told police he heard someone outside his window yell "Yo!" He looked out and saw two shirtless white men staggering along _ and then two black men emerged from the darkness and followed. All four moved beyond the witness' field of vision.

According to public records, Tyson had been released from juvenile detention a day before the tourists' deaths.

On April 7, 2011, Tyson was charged with aggravated assault with a firearm in an unrelated case. Authorities claimed he fired into an occupied car during a dispute, but Tyson said he only fired a revolver into the air.

When officers searched his bedroom, they found two .22 caliber bullets, the same caliber police said were used to kill Kouzaris and Cooper. Following several anonymous tips, a new search of Tyson's home found a black ski mask and another .22 round.

Cooper and Kouzaris had not been robbed _ both men still had cash in their wallets and Kouzaris had a cellphone and digital camera in his pocket.

Opening statements in the trial are scheduled to begin Wednesday.

On Tuesday, prosecutors and Tyson's attorneys grilled dozens of potential jurors for the second day. Circuit Judge Rick De Furia told jurors that the trial could last a week.

By midmorning, more than 100 potential jurors had been screened; several said they had heard about the case in local media.

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Follow Tamara Lush on Twitter at http://twitter.com/tamaralush