FORT WORTH — David Cooper, the man who claimed a law dating back to the 1800s gave him legal permission to occupy a home that was not his, has been found guilty of burglary and theft in a Tarrant County courtroom. His wife was found not guilty.
A jury returned the verdicts around 5 p.m. Wednesday in the county's first "squatter" trial involving a claim of adverse possession.
Prosecutors argued that jurors should not have been asked to consider the intricacies of the 1800s Texas law on adverse possession. They said it was a matter of law that adverse possession did not apply to what 26-year-old Cooper did.
But Judge Sharen Wilson ruled that adverse possession was at issue, and it seemed to give Cooper an opening.
His attorney told jurors the state did not prove Cooper intended to commit a crime when he moved into a $400,000 home on Forestwood Drive in north Arlington.
News 8 found him living there openly last November. He had posted "No Trespassing" signs, filed an affidavit with the county clerk, and turned on utilities.
The house had been vacant for several months while the owners were out of town for medical treatment.
Cooper testified it was open, abandoned, overgrown and trashed out when he discovered it. He said he researched adverse possession law on the Internet before moving in.
In closing statements, prosecutor David Lobingier called Cooper and his wife Jasmine Williams "opportunists," "thieves" and "looters."
It took jurors about two hours to find Cooper guilty of burglary of a habitation and theft over $200,000. They found Williams not guilty.
<> Punishment testimony begins Thursday. Potential penalties range from probation all the way to life in prison.
David Cooper does not have an extensive criminal history, and will be eligible for probation.
This is the first of about a half-dozen trials focused on adverse possession. Prosecutors say Wednesday's decision could affect the others.
Questions arose about the legal definition of a habitation. "Burglary of a habitation" carries stiffer penalties than "burglary of a building."
Tarrant County district attorney Joe Shannon stepped in last year to stop a wave of adverse possession filings affecting millions of dollars in property.
Several "squatter" families were evicted and charged after moving into empty homes, and claiming legal protection ownership under the law of adverse possession.