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Attorneys prepare for trial of West Duluth murder suspect

A Duluth man accused of killing an acquaintance who said something about his son was in court Wednesday as attorneys prepare to try the case next month.

Stephen Louis Cobenais Sr.
Stephen Louis Cobenais Sr.

A Duluth man accused of killing an acquaintance who said something about his son was in court Wednesday as attorneys prepare to try the case next month.

Stephen Louis Cobenais Sr., 27, is charged with intentional second-degree murder and being a felon in possession of a firearm in the Aug. 26, 2009, death of Mario Highler, 31, in West Duluth. Highler died from a single gunshot wound to the back of his head.

St. Louis County prosecutor Leslie Beiers and Duluth defense attorney David Malban met with 6th Judicial District Judge David Johnson to discuss and argue the law and rules of court that will be followed in Cobenais' trial, scheduled to begin Oct. 24.

According to the criminal complaint, a woman told police she was in Cobenais' apartment at 3932 Grand Ave. the night of the shooting when he received news that his son had been removed from his care. She said Cobenais was very angry and upset. She said she was in the one-room apartment later that evening with Highler partying and listening to music.

While sitting on the couch texting, she heard a man she believed to be Highler say: "Get that gun out of my face." She said she also heard Cobenais say: "You better not say anything about my son again." A few minutes later she heard a shot and heard Cobenais say, "Everybody get ... out."

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Duluth police said Cobenais admitted to shooting Highler.

After the hearing, outside the courtroom, Malban declined to say what his client's defense will be. "That will come out at trial," he said. "It's not a 'who done it?' It's a 'how it happened.' The case is not as clear-cut as the state would have you believe by reading the complaint, as the evidence at trial will make clear."

Cobenais is being held in the St. Louis County Jail on $750,000 bail. He was being held in the Douglas County Jail until he assaulted another prisoner in March 2010.

Beiers has filed a motion asking the court for an order permitting the use of physical restraints on Cobenais by St. Louis County Sheriff's deputies throughout the trial. Lt. Dave Rolland, in charge of the transportation of prisoners and courtroom security, submitted an affidavit, asking the court to permit the placement of a stun belt -- an electronic shocking device -- on Cobenais' arm or leg. Rolland also asked that an officer without a uniform be seated within two feet of the defendant to protect people in the courtroom.

Malban told the court that he doesn't want the jury to see those types of constraints on his client. The judge said he had the same concerns and took the matter under advisement.

More than 40 officers swarmed the 600 block of East Sixth Street where Cobenais holed up after allegedly shooting Highler. Police crisis negotiators talked to him during a tense five-hour standoff in the East Hillside neighborhood.

Many residents of the block were kept from their homes, and traffic was diverted from a four-block stretch of Sixth Avenue East as police negotiated with Cobenais to surrender.

The standoff ended when Cobenais walked out of the house and lay face-down on the front lawn.

Related Topics: CRIMEWEST DULUTH
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