Defense attorney says 'squatters' were improving Arlington property

Posted Tuesday, Nov. 13, 2012  comments  Print Reprints

Topics: Texas Cities



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FORT WORTH -- The defense attorney for a couple accused of "squatting" on a $405,000 northeast Arlington home told jurors today that her clients were improving an abandoned property that had fallen into disrepair.

David Cooper, 26, and his wife, Jasmine Williams Cooper, 23, had been making repairs to the home, their attorney Deborah Goodall said as their trial began. The home on 3008 Forestwood Dr. had received various code violations for high weeds and grass, an unkempt pool, trash and junk in the driveway.

But prosecutors quickly argued that the code violations had been resolved by its rightful owners, Raymond and Julie Dell, by May 2010, and that the Coopers committed criminal acts, including burglary of a habitation and trespass, when they entered the home.

Property owner Raymond Dell testified that the family had been away from the home at the time because his wife was receiving cancer treatments in Houston. The Dells bought the home from Juan Gonzalez, the one-time star Texas Rangers baseball player.

David Cooper, of DeSoto, faces life in prison on a first-degree felony charge of theft over $200,000. He also faces a charge of burglary that carries a maximum punishment of 20 years in prison, court records show. Jasmine Williams Cooper also faces a charge of burglary of a habitation.

The outcome of the case could hinge on this question: Did Cooper plan to live at the property, which he claimed was abandoned, or was his intent to commit fraud and loot it?

Goodall told the jury that Cooper tapped an obscure Texas law that allows people to claim rights to abandoned or vacant properties as long they maintain the property and pay taxes on it.

In October 2011, Cooper paid $16 to file what is known as an affidavit of adverse possession with the county clerk's office, claiming ownership of the 4,320-square-foot home in the 3000 block of Forestwood Drive.

Witnesses including an Arlington police detective and patrol officer said Cooper was arrested Nov. 9 for burglary of a habitation, in part, because county appraisal records showed the Dells as the owners of the property.

The detective, Dominic Del Baiggio, said he also acted on an edict by Tarrant County District Attorney Joe Shannon issued last year. Shannon deemed adverse possession affidavits "fraudulent" and directed the county clerk's office not to accept them. Dozens of people had taken ownership of more than $8 million of Tarrant County property.

Prosecutors have pointed out some estimates showing that as much as $250,000 in valuables were removed from the home, including the Dells' furniture and clothing.

Judge Sharen Wilson dismissed jurors a few moments before noon Tuesday. Another witness in the case was expected to take the stand at about 1:20 p.m.

Yamil Berard

(817) 390-7705

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