Rick Stallings, who was accused of killing longtime Durango resident Karen Cugnini, was found guilty of first-degree murder Monday and now faces a possible life sentence without parole.
“Stallings is no longer a threat to our community, thanks to the great work of Det. (Katie) Robbins, the entire SJCSO Detectives Division and the District Attorney’s Office,” San Juan County Sheriff’s Office Undersheriff R. Shane Ferrari said in a prepared statement.
“We hope the Cugnini family has some peace and relief with the guilty verdict.”
According to the San Juan County Sheriff’s Office, Stallings was also found guilty of aggravated burglary with a deadly weapon, a second-degree felony, as well as three other felonies: unlawful taking of a motor vehicle, theft of a firearm and theft of a credit card.
Stallings has a pending trial for additional charges of possession of a firearm and battery on a peace officer, the San Juan County Sheriff’s Office said.
The murder charges date back to October 2015 when Stallings, then 50, was arrested and accused of breaking into Cugnini’s home in Flora Vista with the intent of stealing the 69-year-old’s belongings.
Authorities, however, believe Cugnini walked in on Stallings during the burglary and the Farmington man reacted by shooting her.
Two days later, Stallings was located at another home in Farmington and caused the situation to escalate to the point where a SWAT team was called after he refused to come out.
Since the murder, Stallings has continually caused delays in his trial.
In April 2016, he dismissed his public defender, wishing to represent himself in court, only to reverse his decision a few months later.
In court that November, Stallings changed his mind again and filed an order to represent himself. He perplexed attorneys moments later when he argued he wasn’t competent to stand trial.
A district court judge ultimately postponed proceedings until a mental health evaluation could be conducted, which ultimately found Stallings was competent to stand trial. Stallings then chose to retain his public defender.
In September, Stallings threatened to “pop” his public defender, which forced the district judge to withdraw the attorney’s representation, thereby delaying the trial yet again.
Stallings’ case finally went to trial last week. He represented himself with a public defender as standby counsel. The Farmington Daily Times reported Stallings denied killing Cugnini.
The San Juan County Sheriff’s Office wrote in a post to Facebook, “after a lengthy two years of investigating and prolonged court proceedings, in which Stallings chose to represent himself, justice was finally served.”
The Cugninis are an old-time cattle ranching family in Durango, with family members still involved in the community through 4-H, Fiesta Days and the rodeo.
Cugnini graduated Durango High School in 1964, friends said. She once owned a business in Silverton called White Woman Trading Post, which offered Native American jewelry and rugs, among other items.
“The Sheriff’s Office would like to thank everyone that assisted with this case and we would also like to thank the family of Karen Cugnini for staying strong and dealing with Stallings during the trial,” the Sheriff’s Office said.
It was unclear Monday when Stallings is scheduled for sentencing.