Double Life For Sheffield Student "Evil" Killer

29 March 2012, 10:25 | Updated: 30 March 2016, 13:50

Families of two students from Sheffield, who were gunned down by a teenager in Florida, watched a their "evil" killed was jailed.

24 year old James Kouzaris, and 25 year old James Cooper, were gunned down by Shawn Tyson after they drunkenly walked into a rundown public housing estate in Sarasota in the early hours of April 16 last year.

The killer, who sports a tattoo of the word "savage" on his chest, will spend his life in prison without parole after being convicted of two counts of first degree murder. Tyson, who has just turned 17, avoided the death penalty because of his age.

The families of the two friends expressed anger at the fact he was released from juvenile detention a day before he killed them.

Tyson had been arrested on April 7 for shooting at a car, but because of an administrative error was released on April 15 to the care of his mother.

Less than 24 hours later he had shot Mr Cooper, a tennis coach from Hampton Lucy, near Warwick, and Mr Kouzaris, a town planner from Northampton, both were students at Sheffield University.

In a statement, the families said: "It is a fact that we were given a life sentence when our sons were so brutally and needlessly taken from us.

"Ours is a life sentence, with no chance of parole from a broken heart, and a shattered soul.

"The agonising and searing pain we have experienced will continue until our sentence is at an end.

"The evil of the killer is one thing, but the fact is, he would not have been on the streets had instructions to keep him incarcerated been passed from one judge to another.''

The court heard emotional statements from two friends, Joe Hallett and Paul Davies, and saw tribute videos made in memory of the two victims.

Prosecutor Karen Fraivillig read a statement from Mr Cooper's parents Stan and Sandy which said: "Anyone who has lost a child will know there are no words which can express the despair, disbelief and desolation.

"We will miss him every minute of every day in a home that now feels empty."

They described him as "the finest son any parent could dream of having".

"We have lost the core, the heart, the light and the love of our lives," they said.

Mr Hallett addressed Tyson personally, saying: "It was through your deadly action that you have taken us all on a journey to hell during the last 12 months."

He said the men were "decent human beings", telling Tyson: "They were two of the good guys in life.

"You pierced their hearts with bullets and you robbed my friends of their dignity, their freedom and their future."

He added: "You have failed in life - you have been failed by your family, your friends, the educational system, your local community.

"But those failings don't excuse your actions."

Mr Davies, who had travelled with Mr Kouzaris and was due to move to London with Mr Cooper, said Tyson had robbed him of a best man.

In a video played to the court, Mr Kouzaris's father Pete, alongside wife Hazel, said: "The 16th of April 2011 will be etched in the hearts and the memories of all those people who loved and had the privilege of loving James.

"Who could have imagined the tragic events that unfolded so cruelly?

"A question that I have asked myself so many times - why?"

He said: "We have suffered and continue to suffer," and added that said his son had been "needlessly taken from us in a moment of madness".

It took the jury just under two hours to convict Tyson of two counts of murder in the first degree. If he had been 18 when he committed the murders he could have been given the death penalty.

Before sentencing, he was asked by Judge Rick De Furia if he had anything to add, to which he replied simply: "No."

When Mr Kouzaris and Mr Cooper drunkenly walked into a housing project known as The Court, they were confronted by Tyson, who tried to rob them.

When they had no money, he told them: "Well, since you ain't got no money, I got something for your ass."

The men pleaded to go home, saying they were drunk, but the teenager, then 16, shot one then the other.

When they were found, both still had their wallets and cash - Mr Cooper had 63.45 dollars and Mr Kouzaris had 62.05 dollars.

After the case, Mr Hallett and Mr Davies also criticised the decision to release Tyson the day before the killings.

Reading a statement on behalf of the families, they said: "We would like to stress our horror at the events which led to the premature and irresponsible release of Shawn Tyson on April 15, 2011.

"Indeed, the events of April 16th would not have come to fruition without Mr Tyson's wrongful release."

They branded Tyson's actions "the most cowardly and perverse act of inhumanity imaginable", adding: "We hope that one day he is able to show remorse for his actions and understand the severity and consequences of his crimes."

Tyson's mother Kenyatta Whitfield, who was in court, mouthed "I love you Shawn" to her son. The teenager's father Tyrone Tyson, 44, said outside court: "To the Kouzaris and Cooper families, our deepest sympathies go out to them.

"Whatever I say will never bring their kids back to them. Today three families have been destroyed.

"Two will never see their kids again and one family's child has just lost his freedom for the rest of his life."