LAKELAND, Fla. -- The Sarasota teenager convicted of murdering two British tourists had his case heard in appellate court Wednesday.
Shawn Tyson was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison for the 2011 killings of James Kouzaris and James Cooper, two friends visiting Sarasota from England.
Tyson's attorney is asking for a new trial, saying the state presented inadmissible evidence during Tyson's murder trial in March 2012.
A panel of three appellate court judges in Lakeland listened to lawyers argue over the case. “This is a case where we have two individuals who were murdered needlessly because the robbery was unsuccessful,” said Assistant Attorney General Cerese Taylor.
Those two individuals, Cooper and Kouzaris, ended up in the wrong neighborhood at the wrong time after a night of partying in downtown Sarasota. Both of them were murdered during an attempted robbery.
16-year-old Shawn Tyson was the prime suspect, and about a year later he was convicted of the killings and sentenced to life.
His lawyer argued Wednesday that Tyson should have a new trial, based on the relevance of the evidence the state presented at his murder trial; evidence about Tyson's criminal history. “They want these people to think that he's a bad dude with a gun shooting at people,” said attorney Terrence Kehoe.
The state responded. “This is not an attempt to unfairly prosecute an individual for crimes he did not commit. This was a case developed over time, and each link in the chain established Mr. Tyson's guilt.”
Criminal defense attorney Derek Byrd finds it unlikely the appellate court will reverse the conviction, but admits Tyson's attorney has every right to be upset. “It's a good argument. Ordinarily, your criminal history cannot come into a trial, so the jury doesn’t get to hear if you have had a criminal past. They are supposed to decide your guilt or innocence on this particular case.”
For the three judges on this particular case, it could take them months to make a ruling.
Even if Sean Tyson does not get a new trial, a recent Supreme Court decision allows for him to receive a new sentencing hearing.
The Supreme Court ruled in the case of Miller vs. Alabama that mandatory sentences of life in prison without the possibility of parole are unconstitutional for juvenile offenders, meaning he still could receive a life sentence, but would be entitled to a parole hearing; probably in about 25 years.