Defense attorney calls hearing a "parade of felons and liars"

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AZTEC — An Aztec magistrate judge found there was sufficient evidence Thursday to arraign Rick Stallings for murder in the slaying of Karen Cugnini.

Judge Connie Johnston further ordered that Stallings will be arraigned in district court on charges of aggravated burglary, felony larceny, firearm theft, vehicle theft, felon in possession of a firearm and credit card theft.

Friends and associates of Stallings said in testimony at Thursday's preliminary examination hearing that Stallings made incriminating statements regarding Cugnini's death and had in his possession several items belonging to the deceased woman.

Stallings' defense attorney, Thomas Clark, characterized the hearing as "a parade of felons and liars."

"Other than self-serving and uncooperative testimony of lies, there is no evidence against my client," Clark said.

Cugnini, 69, was found dead of an apparent gunshot wound to the head on Oct. 1 at her residence at No. 236 County Road 3050.

Detectives found a .22 caliber shell casing on her bedroom floor, and numerous items — Native American rugs, silver and turquoise jewelry, credit cards, checks and a white Ford F-150 pickup truck — were missing from the residence.

Cugnini's next-door neighbor, Lloyd Turnbull, told the judge he allowed Stallings to stay at his residence before Cugnini's death, but he kicked Stallings out. Turnbull said Stallings had threatened a friend with a gun.

Turnbull further claimed he saw Stallings driving a white Ford pickup truck around the time of Cugnini's death.

Cugnini's pickup truck was later found behind a residence on County Road 6480 in Kirtland. The resident told detectives Stallings parked it there on Oct. 1 and claimed it belonged to his brother.

Turnbull, who admitted he was a habitual user of methamphetamine, said he did some yard work for Cugnini, but had never been inside her residence or borrowed money from her.

"She was a very nice lady," Turnbull said.

Cugnini was born and raised in Durango, Colo., and graduated from Durango High School in 1964. She owned and operated the White Woman Trading Post in Silverton, Colo., for more than 15 years. She moved to Flora Vista in 2008 and spent time there caring for her disabled granddaughter, Tyanne.

Michelle "Missy" Every testified Thursday that Stallings arrived at her residence at 408 Ouray Ave. in Farmington on Sept. 30 to speak with his friend, Lewis "David" Gutierrez.

Every told the judge Stallings said he had killed a woman, but she did not initially believe him.

"When people say they are going to kill someone, you blow them off," Every said. "Because no one ever does anything."

Every said Stallings gave her a ring, necklaces and a bracelet with a blank name plate — all items San Juan County Sheriff's Office detectives believe belonged to Cugnini. Every also said Stallings gave her Cugnini's credit card and ID, which she used to purchase items at local retail stores.

Every was cross-examined by Clark. She admitted she spent between $150 and $300 every day on methamphetamine. She invoked her constitutional right against self-incrimination when asked about the fraudulent use of credit cards, but denied killing Cugnini.

Stallings' girlfriend Felisha Petty also testified against Stalling at Thursday's hearing. She told the judge she and Stallings went to Sunray Park & Casino on Sept. 30. She said it was there that Stallings admitted he had a gun, and he had hurt somebody with it.

She said they later went to Gutierrez's house, and Stallings threatened her with the gun, claiming she was trying to set him up.

Petty said despite that incident, she still cared for Stallings.

"He is the most dangerous, sweetest man I know," she said.

Steve Garrison covers crime and courts for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4644.  

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