New Mexico Supreme Court rejects appeal by convicted murderer Rick Stallings

Defendant is serving sentence of life in prison for first-degree murder

Joshua Kellogg
Farmington Daily Times
  • Rick Stallings was convicted on Dec. 4, 2017, of killing Karen Cugnini on Oct. 2, 2015, by shooting her in the back of the head in a bedroom of her Flora Vista home during an armed burglary.
  • The New Mexico Supreme Court in a unanimous decision on Aug. 27 rejected Stallings' appeal, according to a New Mexico Administrative Office of the Courts press release.
  • Stallings filed a motion on Nov. 8, 2017, to represent himself with Liane Kerr, a court-appointed attorney he fired, to serve as standby counsel.

FARMINGTON — The New Mexico Supreme Court upheld multiple convictions for Rick Stallings, including first-degree murder, after he appealed his convictions stating that he didn't receive a fair trial.

The state Supreme Court in a unanimous decision on Aug. 27 rejected Stallings' appeal, according to a New Mexico Administrative Office of the Courts press release.

Stallings was convicted on Dec. 4, 2017, of killing Karen Cugnini on Oct. 2, 2015, by shooting her in the back of the head in a bedroom of her Flora Vista home during an armed burglary, according to The Daily Times archives.

His convictions included aggravated burglary, larceny of a firearm, unlawful taking of a motor vehicle and theft of a credit card.

He was sentenced on Dec. 13, 2017, to life in prison without the possibility of parole along with 16 years and six months for the theft of a credit card, vehicle theft and larceny of a firearm convictions.

Stallings argued since the judge declined to appoint another attorney to his case, that he did not receive a fair trial.

Defendant Rick Stallings makes a statement before his sentencing on Wednesday, Dec. 13, 2017, in Aztec District Court.

Stallings fired two public defenders appointed to his case before representing himself during the murder trial.

Justice Barbara J. Vigil wrote Stallings waived his right to counsel by choosing to represent himself after being warned of the decision.

Stallings filed a motion on Nov. 8, 2017, to represent himself with Liane Kerr, a court-appointed attorney he fired, to serve as standby counsel.

Chief District Court Judge Karen Townsend, who presided over the case, approved the motion on Nov. 13.

Judge Townsend spent extra time during the trial to clearly explain court procedures and at times advising him to not introduce his own testimony when questioning witnesses.

Stallings also believed he did not "clearly invoke" his right to represent himself in the case but the Supreme Court justices believed he did.

“The district court provided him with adequate advice and forewarning and discerned that (Stallings) was fully aware of the potential consequences of his choice,” according to the opinion. “Thereafter, the court was obligated to respect his decision to exercise the right to self-representation. Defendant’s choice, however ill-advised, was nonetheless his own, and no remedy is available to him.”

Stallings told the jury during his opening statements that he was a methamphetamine user and used curse words along with slamming a podium during his closing statements.

Joshua Kellogg covers breaking news for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4627 or via email at jkellogg@daily-times.com.

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