Jury to start deliberations in murder trial
AZTEC — The jury will start deliberations Monday in the trial for Rick Stallings, who is accused of first-degree murder in the death of Karen Cugnini.
District Chief Judge Karen Townsend initially announced the trial would continue on Tuesday before a lunch break this morning.
But after Stallings — who is representing himself in the trial — quickly wrapped up his questioning of his three witnesses, Townsend chose to finalize the jury instructions this afternoon and allowed the defense and the prosecution to give their closing statements.
Stallings, 52, is accused of killing Cugnini on or around Sept. 30, 2015, in her Flora Vista home during an armed burglary.
Detectives for the San Juan County Sheriff's Office found the 69-year-old woman dead on Oct. 1, 2015, with a gunshot wound to the back of her head, according to the arrest warrant affidavit.
There are seven charges Stallings is facing, including felony counts of vehicle theft, larceny and aggravated burglary, according to the criminal complaint.
Today was the fifth day of the trial in Aztec District Court.
Both Stallings and prosecutor Michael Sanchez delivered the closing statements
Sanchez's closing statement lasted nearly an hour, as he claimed the evidence supported beyond a reasonable doubt that Stallings murdered Cugnini in the middle of burgarlizing her home.
He also told the jury Stallings and accomplices had a three-day crime spree as people used Cugnini's stolen credit cards and checks.
Stallings is accused of stealing a firearm belonging to Cugnini, along with her Ford pickup truck and about $23,000 in property, including Native American rugs and jewelry, according to court documents.
The closing statement for Stallings lasted about 35 minutes. He expressed his anger at witnesses called by the prosecution, along with the court-appointed attorneys he believed didn't properly investigate his case and the failure of law enforcement officials to locate his witnesses.
While addressing the jury, Stallings raised his voice multiple times, slammed the podium with his hands and used curse words.
He called the witnesses "rats" multiple times, stating they were a bunch of liars and "tweakers."
Toward the end of his statement, he told the jury he did not kill anyone.
"I don't know why that poor lady died," Stallings said.
Townsend had approved a motion allowing Stllings to represent himself with court-appointed attorney Liane Kerr serving as standby counsel.
Testimony earlier in the day was related to a map Stallings sent to Felisha Petty, a woman who dated Stallings. The map directed her to a location in La Plata along County Road 1911 to find some items belonging to him.
Petty testified she received the letter and map from Stallings while he was incarcerated at the San Juan County Adult Detention Center.
William Gorm testified he found a plastic bag with two wooden boxes full of silverware, cloth and a .22-caliber rifle with its shoulder stock broken.
Detectives found a .22 caliber shell casing on Cugnini's bedroom floor.
Believing it was garbage, Gorm said he threw the items away sometime in the fall of 2015. He was contacted by a detective on April 1, 2016, about the items.
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.