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Duluth suspect lost child custody battle hours before shooting

Stephen Louis Cobenais Sr.

Stephen Louis Cobenais Sr. was angry when he learned that his baby son was being removed from his care, and he shot and killed Mario Highler when Highler said something about the baby that Cobenais didn't like.

That allegation was in a complaint filed Thursday in St. Louis County District Court charging Cobenais, 24, with intentional second-degree murder and for being a convicted felon in possession of a firearm.

Highler, 31, died from a single gunshot wound to the back of his head early Wednesday.

The hearing took place in less than five minutes with Judge Shaun Floerke presiding. Cobenais spoke only to say he was unemployed and to add "senior" when asked to confirm his name.

Public defender Cindy Evenson told the court that Cobenais told her he grew up in Minneapolis, has a high school diploma and a certificate in training as a shop aide. Floerke set bail at $750,000, as requested by Assistant St. Louis County Attorney Leslie Beiers, who told the court the defendant is a significant risk to public safety because of the alleged crime and his criminal history of violence.

According to the criminal complaint, a woman told police she was in Cobenais' apartment at 3932 Grand Ave. on Tuesday when Cobenais received a phone call that his son had been removed from his care.

She said the defendant was very angry and upset. She said she was in the one-room apartment later Tuesday 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 the defendant say, "Everybody get ... out.''

Three women, identified only by initials in the complaint, left the apartment without taking the time to put their shoes on. Cobenais allegedly told them not to use their phones.

A woman said she had seen Cobenais with a gun at least twice at his apartment.

She described the gun as a black, older-style gun where you "put bullets in the wheel.''

Officers located .38-caliber ammunition inside the apartment in a pillowcase hidden inside a panel at the bottom of a refrigerator. The ammunition is consistent with ammunition used in a revolver. Beiers said officers recovered a loaded handgun from Cobenais.

Another woman who had been in the apartment told police that she saw Cobenais with a gun earlier in the evening. She heard the shot and saw Highler fall to the ground. Responding officers found Highler on his back. There was blood spatter beneath the desk and a blood smear across the floor where it appeared the body had been dragged 5 or 6 feet from under a desk.

Cobenais has felony convictions for assault on a police officer and theft of a motor vehicle, Beiers said.

The defendant's next court appearance is scheduled for Sept. 16.