Stallings found guilty of first-degree murder

Noel Lyn Smith
Farmington Daily Times
Rick Stallings, center, waits for the start of his trial on Monday, Nov. 27, at the Aztec District Court.

FARMINGTON — A jury found Rick Stallings guilty Monday of five felony charges, including the first-degree murder of Karen Cugnini.

The verdict was delivered after a five-day trial last week in Aztec District Court.

Stallings, 52, faces a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole.

San Juan County Chief Deputy District Attorney Dustin O'Brien said today the sentencing hearing has not yet been scheduled.

Stallings was accused of killing Cugnini on or around Sept. 30, 2015 in her home in Flora Vista during an armed burglary.

Cugnini, 69, was found dead on Oct. 1, 2015, with a gunshot wound to the back of her head.

In addition to the murder charge, Stallings was found guilty of aggravated burglary (deadly weapon), larceny of a firearm (less than $2,500), unlawful taking of a motor vehicle (first offense) and theft of a credit card.

Defendant Rick Stallings rises as the jury enters the courtroom on Thursday, Nov. 30, 2017 during his trial at Aztec District Court.

The jury found him not guilty of larceny (over $20,000).

In a statement to The Daily Times, Chris and Becky Cugnini, Karen Cugnini's daughters, said they have been through many emotions since their mother's death.

"Hopefully, with this verdict we can try to move on and find peace and closure. We are filled with gratitude for those who supported us," the sisters wrote today.

They also expressed appreciation to the San Juan County Sheriff's Office, Detective Katie Robbins, the San Juan County District Attorney's Office, friends and family.

O'Brien said the sheriff's office did an "excellent job" while investigating the case.

He added while the verdict cannot make the Cugnini family feel whole again, "life in prison is the best result we can obtain."

Stallings initially faced seven felony charges but the charge of possession of a firearm or destructive device by a felon was not considered in this case and it will be tried separately, O'Brien said.

Stallings is also scheduled for a jury trial in district court in January for one felony count of battery upon a peace officer and one misdemeanor count of assault upon a peace officer, according to court records.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636 or by email at