NEWS
21/03/2012 18:29 GMT | Updated 21/03/2012 18:39 GMT

James Cooper And James Kouzaris: Murder Trial Of Shawn Tyson, Suspect Accused Of Killing Brits In Florida, Delayed By Jury Selection

The case of a teenager accused of shooting dead two Britons in Florida has not opened today, as the prolonged US system of jury selection took its toll on the planned timetable of the trial.

Shawn Tyson is accused of killing 25-year-old James Cooper and friend James Kouzaris, 24, in Sarasota in April last year.

Tyson, who turned 17 on Monday, has been charged as an adult with two counts of first-degree murder and faces life in prison if he is convicted of the murders.

The trial, in Sarasota, started on Monday, but has been occupied with the system of jury selection, very different from the British legal system, since then.

In a bid to ensure a fair trial, prosecuting and defence counsel are trying to select a jury of 12 people, plus two alternates, from an original pool of 145.

Questions to potential jurors have included whether people had already made their minds up about the widely publicised case, or if they would suffer "significant hardship" if they served on the jury for the trial, which is expected to last into next week.

Jurors have been asked whether they had been victims of crime, whether they could put their own opinions aside, whether they can handle viewing crime scene photos of gunshot wounds, and whether they could put aside their views on witnesses who have made plea bargains.

Prosecution witnesses in the trial are expected to include people who have been encouraged to testify in exchange for lighter sentences.

Mr Kouzaris, from Northampton, was holidaying with Mr Cooper and his family, from Hampton Lucy, near Warwick, when they were killed in the early hours of April 16.

The men were staying in Longboat Key, 12 miles from the murder scene, and were out drinking in central Sarasota, but were found dead in the town's rundown Newtown area, 20 blocks away.

They had spent the night having dinner with Mr Cooper's parents, then bar-hopping, and planned to take a taxi home, but are believed to have walked into the impoverished area.

It remains unclear how they came to be in the housing project, known as The Courts, and why they walked instead of taking a cab.

Tyson, whose mother Kenyatta Whitfield has been in court this week, lives near where the men's bodies were found, was arrested a day after the killings.

The double murder was thought to have been a botched robbery - although the victims still had cash in their wallets, and a mobile phone and digital camera.

Police searches of Tyson's bedroom are said to have found several .22 calibre bullets, the same size police said were used to kill Kouzaris and Cooper. The murder weapon has never been found.

Evidence will also show that Tyson threatened people with a gun on April 7, 2011 - just nine days before the killings.

Opening statements from the prosecution and defence are expected to start tomorrow morning.