Mola Lenghi, NBC 5 Arlington Reporter
David Cooper has been sentenced to 90 days in jail, 10 years' probation and a $10,000 fine for trying to claim squatters' rights on a house using an obscure state law.
A North Texas man convicted of theft and burglary after trying to claim squatters' rights on a house using an obscure state law was sentenced to 90 days in jail.
David Cooper faced up to life in prison for burglary of a habitation and one count of theft over $200,000.
After he serves his 90-day jail sentence, Cooper will spend the next 10 years on probation and must have a Tarrant County address on file once he is released from prison. He must also pay a $10,000 fine.
Cooper was noticeably relieved when the sentence was read, tilting his head back, taking a deep breath and looking toward the sky. A moment later, he could be seen mouthing the words "thank you" to his defense attorney.
"I am absolutely elated that the jury realized that David Cooper does not belong in prison, because he truly doesn't," said Deborah Goodall, his attorney.
The prosecution was equally satisfied with the verdict.
"I think it was totally appropriate under the circumstances," Tarrant County Assistant District Attorney David Lobingier said.
During closing arguments Thursday morning, Goodall pleaded to the jury for probation as opposed to any prison sentence, saying that Cooper's felony conviction was punishment enough.
"At the end of the day I'm just begging you for a chance," she said. "His verdict is a terrible punishment -- being a felon really is."
During the prosecution's closing argument, Lobingier urged the jury to think of the victim
"Can you imagine the number of lives given by men and women serving our nation and have laid a valuable sacrifice on the altar of freedom to protect our rights to have a home without fear of someone coming and taking it?" he said.
Prosecutors said Cooper took possession of the house and all of its contents while the homeowners, a man and wife, were staying in an apartment in Houston, where she was undergoing cancer treatments.
Cooper said he was relying on a law allowing what's known as "adverse possession" that he studied at a law library. He filed a claim for $16 on a $400,000 Arlington home and moved in, but said he didn't know he was breaking the law.
Area county clerks say the law is being misused and have stopped accepting claims.
Squatting has been an increasing problem in Tarrant County, but has not traditionally been prosecuted.
The prosecution stressed that Cooper's trial could send a message to potential squatters and also help in future cases.
"This will give us some guidance, thank goodness, on ... how to look at these other cases," Lobingier said.
Cooper's wife, Jasmine, also faced charges in connection with the squatting but was acquitted of burglary.
She was taken into custody on unrelated charges after the trial concluded. Police said there was a warrant for her arrest in relation to an outstanding speeding ticket in DeSoto.
NBC 5's Mola Lenghi contributed to this report.