First-degree murder suspect denies killing victim
AZTEC — Rick Stallings, a man accused of first-degree murder, told a jury today that he did not kill anybody. He gave his opening statement while acting as his own attorney.
The prosecution also gave opening arguments and the first witness testified during the first day of Stallings' murder trial in Aztec District Court.
Stallings, 52, is accused of slaying Karen Cugnini, who was found on Oct. 1, 2015, in her Flora Vista home, according to court documents.
Stallings faces a total of seven charges including felony counts of aggravated burglary, larceny and unlawful taking of a motor vehicle, according to the criminal complaint.
Stallings was charged on Oct. 6, 2015, and accused of shooting the 69-year-old woman. She was found dead with a gunshot wound to her head on the night of Oct. 1, 2015, according to court documents.
He was arrested on Oct. 3, 2015, along with Lewis "David" Gutierrez and Michelle "Missy" Every at Gutierrez's residence in Farmington, according to the arrest warrant affidavit.
San Juan County Sheriff's Office detectives found multiple items belonging to Cugnini during a search of that home, according to court documents.
Every told detectives during an interview she had forged checks belonging to Cugnini and used her credit cards. She also stated Stallings told her he killed a woman, stating "I had to take her out," according to court documents.
District Chief Judge Karen Townsend is presiding over the case.
Stallings and Trevor Maveal, a senior trial attorney for the San Juan County District Attorney's Office, gave the opening statements.
A motion was filed Nov. 8 for Stallings to represent himself with court-appointed attorney Liane Kerr serving as standby counsel, according to a copy of the motion. Judge Townsend approved that motion on Nov. 13.
Meveal told the jury Cugnini was killed during an armed burglary committed by Stallings. He added evidence, including a DNA sample of Stalling's found at the scene of the crime and testimony from more than 20 witnesses, would prove the prosecution's case.
During the course of about 45 minutes, Stallings told the jury about the events before and after Cugnini's death.
He did not speak about visiting Cugnini's house during the opening statements and accused another man of being in possession of stolen checks and credit cards taken during the burglary of Cugnini's home.
Chris Cugnini, one of Karen Cugnini's daughters, was questioned by Deputy District Attorney Michael Sanchez following the opening statements. She testified about the events that lead to her mother's body being discovered by a family friend, and her knowledge of her mother's home.
Sanchez presented exterior and interior photos of the home and asked Chris Cugnini about items taken from the house.
About $23,000 in items, including jewelry and Native American rugs, were taken from the residence.
The trial is scheduled to run through Friday.
Joshua Kellogg covers crime, courts and social issues for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4627 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.