The families of two British tourists gunned down in Florida have criticised authorities who released their killer from prison the day before the murders.
The criticism came as friends of victims James Cooper and James Kouzaris faced their murderer Shawn Tyson in court and called him a coward, saying they hope he suffers “every second of every day”.
Tyson was given two life sentences in prison after a jury took two hours to find him guilty of killing Mr Cooper and Mr Kouzaris during an attempted robbery in Sarasota last April.
Tyson had been released the previous day after his arrest for firing a gun into a car full of people.
The families of Mr Cooper and Mr Kouzaris called the decision “premature and irresponsible”.
James Kouzaris (left) and James Cooper were killed in Florida last year
In a statement, they said: “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.”
They said they had been 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.”
Friends of the victims also spoke in court in Sarasota, addressing Tyson directly.
Joe Hallett told him: “You have taken us all on a journey to hell.”
He said the pair befriended people from different walks of life and would have tried with Tyson as well. “You murdered two people who, if you had given them the chance, would have given you the time of day.”
The scene in Sarasota, Florida, where the two men were found murdered
He told Tyson: “Every night you go to sleep, every morning you wake up, I want you to think of my friends who you murdered. Their images will be imprinted on your conscience up until your very last breath in life.
“James Kouzaris and James Cooper continue to inspire those who knew them yet they will haunt your thoughts until the day you die…
“You have ripped the hearts out of so many of us. Shawn Tyson, I need you to understand the pain you have caused and the amazing personalities that you have killed…
“You have failed life. You have been failed by your family, the education system, your local community and society as a whole. However, these failures don’t excuse your actions on April 16 that will now determine your future.”
Speaking of the special bond between his friends, Mr Hallett voiced his grief that he will never attend their weddings or watch their children grow up.
Poignantly, he stated: “I hope that you and your family suffer every single second of every single day, just as the loved ones of James Kouzaris and James Cooper do…
“For every painful detail of their deaths I have endured, for each disturbing photo I have been exposed to, I am still glad I have this opportunity to look into your eyes and try to explain the pain that you have caused.”
Paul Davies, who had wanted Mr Kouzaris to be his best man and was to move to London with Mr Cooper, called Tyson a coward.
Joe Hallett (left) and Paul Davies make a statement outside the Sarasota court
He said that had the roles been reversed, and his friends found Tyson wandering lost and drunk, they would have helped him “not just because they were good people, because they were men”.
“You might think that being a man is about carrying a gun around but it isn’t,” he told Tyson in court.
“Wearing a mask and shooting two guys in cold blood is being a coward.”
He continued: “The stupid thing about what you did that night is that you’ve ended your own life too…
“For the past week, I’ve had to sit in this courtroom and watch photos of my two best friends lying on the ground, riddled with bullet holes.
“I’ve had to listen to how you stalked them, made them beg for their lives and then unload a gun on them.
“I’ve had to listen to all that knowing that they would never in a million years have threatened you or tried to hurt you. They wouldn’t hurt anyone because, like I say, they were good men, the most amazing men you could have ever met.
“Maybe, if you were more of a man that night you would have known them long enough to find that out for yourself.”
Mr Kouzaris and Mr Cooper had strayed into a rundown housing estate after a night out during a family holiday.
Witnesses testified that Tyson told them he saw two “crackers” – his phrase for white people – walking through the neighbourhood and that he intended to rob them.
Tyson has been handed two life sentences for the killings
The tourists said they did not have any money and begged Tyson to let them go home. He shot the men several times.
Tyson was undone by his own words – he told friends about the shootings in the hours after the killings, then asked friends to hide the murder weapon and bury bullets.
A DNA expert said Tyson’s skin cells were found on Cooper’s jeans.
Tyson’s defence team tried to discredit the witnesses by saying many of them had criminal records and co-operated with detectives to avoid prison.
There were no witnesses to the shooting and the murder weapon has never been found.
Prosecutors admitted the evidence against Tyson was circumstantial but said there was an “enormous” amount and that it all pointed to him.
Tyson was 16 at the time of the shooting and, because of his age, could not face the death penalty.