A Farmington man who was convicted of killing a longtime Durango resident has been sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Earlier this month, a jury found Rick Stallings, 52, guilty of five felonies – including first-degree murder – after a weeklong trial. Other charges included aggravated burglary with a deadly weapon, unlawful taking of a motor vehicle, theft of a firearm and theft of a credit card.
Stallings was given the life sentence Wednesday, said Dustin O’Brien, chief deputy district attorney for the 11th Judicial District in New Mexico. Stallings’ sentence is only the second life sentence without the possibility of parole since the state repealed its death penalty in 2009, O’Brien said.
“From what I understand, it’s as good a result as can be expected,” O’Brien said of the response from the victim’s family.
On Oct. 1, 2015, Karen Cugnini, a former Durango resident, was found dead from a gunshot wound to the back of the head at her home in Flora Vista, a small community about 10 miles northeast of Farmington.
Authorities said Stallings entered Cugnini’s home with the intent of stealing her possessions. It’s believed Cugnini, who was 69 at the time, came home during the burglary, and was shot by Stallings.
Two days later, Stallings was found in another home in Farmington. He refused to come out, so authorities called a SWAT team and used flash grenades to eventually apprehend Stallings.
For more than two years, Stallings delayed his trial. He repeatedly fired his public defender, requesting instead to represent himself, only to re-hire his court-appointed attorney. The trial was also delayed for a mental health evaluation, which ultimately found Stallings competent to stand trial.
Stallings’ case finally went to trial this fall. He represented himself with a public defender as standby counsel, O’Brien said. Stallings has denied killing Cugnini.
Because of the other convictions, which run consecutively, O’Brien said it is unlikely Stallings will get out of prison if he appeals.
Stallings also has three pending cases: possession of a firearm by a felon, possession of methamphetamine and battery on a police officer, O’Brien said.
The Cugninis are a longtime ranching family in La Plata County. Becky Cugnini, Karen’s daughter, gave a statement to the court before the sentencing, according to The Farmington Daily Times.
“I do feel like justice was served,” Becky Cugnini said. “Hopefully now, we can start the healing process.”