Florida Murders
Comment - What society can learn from killer

By Steve Hayes 29/03 Updated: 02/04 15:21

Tyson remained unmoved during his trial. Picture by Sarasota Herald-Tribune. (s)

TEENAGER Shawn Tyson will spend the rest of his life in prison after murdering James Cooper and James Kouzaris.

Here Steve Hayes takes a closer look at the teenager and asks what lessons society can learn from the case.

THROUGHOUT his eight-day murder trial Shawn Tyson appeared almost totally unmoved by the consequences of what he had done.

Sitting motionless as the horrific details of the callous shootings were described and bloody pictures of his victims were displayed to the court.

Even as a judge told him he would spend the rest of his life behind bars, the 17-year-old barely moved a muscle.

The family and friends of James Cooper and James Kouzaris say they will share Tyson's life sentence because he stole the two men from them.

For them, and anyone else who has borne witness to this case, the question which dominates is 'why?' Why would anyone shoot two defenceless tourists who posed no threat?

The sequence of events and the calculated manner of the shootings would lead any rational human being to conclude Tyson was somehow devoid of morals, emotion or any thought and that he was 'feral' - that term used so often by judges in this country as if it somehow explains what led a person to commit dreadful actions such as these.

But accounts of Tyson paint a rather different picture - one which offers a deeply worrying insight into society and poses serious questions about how members of it can plummet so rapidly into lawlessness.

Tyson was not a career criminal, far from it. He had been arrested for the first time in his life just a week before the murders, albeit over another firearm offence.

Accounts suggest he was a respectful and quiet teen.

Though he struggled with reading he was a gifted athlete who was known for being kind and helpful to his disabled classmates at school.

But Tyson dropped out after the eighth grade and thereafter there appears to have been a rapid descent from a polite young man to a teenager feared by his neighbours on the deprived estate in Sarasota where he had grown up.

He had got a girlfriend pregnant about four months before he was arrested and charged with shooting out the taillight of a car full of people.

None of this was touched on during his trial and looking at the cocky, unmoved youngster who seemed almost irritated by the inconvenience of his own fate being sealed before his eyes, few would have cared.

But in many ways, though it may be hard to comprehend, the fate of this young man is every bit as tragic as that of James Cooper and James Kouzaris.

Modern, polarised societies, whether our own, or those thousands of miles across the pond in the USA, appear to be losing individuals at a crucial stage in their development.

Cases like this highlight the need to challenge the assumption which appears to pervade society that each child has values and morals programmed into them from birth.

Attempting to explain the actions of Tyson, and indeed those of any young criminal, within this context, is a much harder, but also a more valuable thing to do than to vociferously vilify them.

Something the authorities in supposedly modern and liberal societies are simply failing to do.

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