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By Steve Kuchera
Duluth News Tribune 

Duluth shooting a 'horrible accident,' Cobenais attorney says


Opposing attorneys in the murder trial of Stephen Louis Cobenais Sr. agreed on a major point during opening statements Wednesday: A revolver that Cobenais was holding on Aug. 26, 2009, went off, killing Mario Highler.

But the attorneys disagree on Cobenais’ intentions when the gun fired.

Cobenais didn’t mean to shoot Highler, defense attorney David Malban said Wednesday during opening statements in St. Louis County District Court. Rather, he intended to evict Highler from a party where he wasn’t wanted.

“It was a horrible accident,” Malban said.

Assistant St. Louis County Attorney Leslie Beiers will argue that Cobenais intended to shoot Highler.

“Stephen Cobenais lost his temper and Mario Highler lost his life,” Beiers said during her opening statement. “The defendant pointed a gun at Mr. Highler’s head, pulled the trigger and killed him.”

Cobenais, 27, is charged with second-degree murder and with being a felon in possession of a firearm. Highler, 31, died from a single gunshot wound to his head at the defendant’s residence at 3932 Grand Ave. Police say the shooting was motivated by a comment about Cobenais’ son.

Cobenais had recently lost custody of his son.

Witnesses will testify that Highler said unflattering things about Cobenais, his parenting ability, his son and the boy’s mother, Beiers said. One witness will testify how she heard a man she believed to be Highler say, “Get that gun out of my face,” followed by a shot and Cobenais ordering everyone out of his apartment.

Cobenais surrendered to police in the East Hillside neighborhood following a five-hour standoff, during which he told a police negotiator several times that he had shot Highler.

Beiers told jurors that she will ask them to find Cobenais guilty of murder and being a felon in possession of a firearm.

Cobenais “wrongfully got procession” of the.38-caliber revolver after he was robbed a month before the fatal shooting, Malban said.

Cobenais and Highler knew each other slightly, Malban said, and did not get along. When Highler arrived at Cobenais’ apartment, Cobenais told him, “ 'You can come in, but I don’t want any trouble,' ” Malban said.

But during a night of drinking, Highler repeatedly got into Cobenais' space, Malban said. Cobenais brought out his gun only after Highler ignored several requests to leave.

“He was at wits' end,” Malban said of Cobenais.

The cocked revolver went off, Malban said, when Highler swatted Cobenais' hand. The bullet hit Highler in the head.

“My client never had any intention to kill Mr. Highler,” Malban said.

Malban told jurors that his client shouldn’t be facing a murder charge, but second-degree manslaughter. But as a defendant, “you don’t get to pick the charges” filed against you, Malban said.


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