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Witness provides new details about West Duluth shooting

A Twin Cities-area woman testified Monday that Stephen Cobenais Sr. had an arm around Mario Highler while holding a gun to his head when she heard the weapon go off and saw Highler fall to the floor.

Tayler Powe, 19, told jurors the men had been arguing immediately before the shot was fired, an arm's length away from her in Cobenais' apartment at 3932 Grand Ave., on Aug. 26, 2009.

Highler, 31, died from a single gunshot wound to the back of his head. Cobenais, 27, is on trial in St. Louis County District Court

accused of intentional second-degree murder and of being a felon in possession of a firearm.

Powe was only 17 at the time of the shooting. She said she had been afraid and initially did not tell investigating officers everything she knew about that night. About three weeks ago, St. Louis County prosecutor Leslie Beiers and a Duluth police investigator traveled to the Twin Cities to re-interview her.

Powe testified that Cobenais had his arm around Highler and "it

wasn't in a friendly way." She said she heard Highler telling Cobenais to get the gun out of his face.

"I saw the gun up by (Highler's) head. I heard the gun go off. (Highler) fell to the floor. Stephen told us all to get the f--- out," she


Powe said she and two other women fled the scene, where she said almost everyone had been drinking Gray Goose vodka straight from the bottle, smoking marijuana and listening to music in Cobenais' one-room apartment.

Defense attorney David Malban pointed out that Powe was providing details that she never mentioned when first interviewed by police. He said Powe told investigators she didn't see the gun. She said she was scared and did lie about that when first interviewed.

Powe appeared confused by Malban's questioning and couldn't come up with a consistent answer as to which hand Cobenais held the gun in and which arm he had around Highler. She said it had been a long time, and she had tried to put it behind her.

Malban wanted to know if she saw his client use the gun to shoot Highler.

"I seen him have it against his head," she said. "I turned around and didn't want to see it. Would you want to see someone's head blown off?"

Powe testified that she had seen Cobenais purchase the murder weapon from another man a few months earlier.

According to the criminal complaint, when Powe was first interviewed she told police she was in Cobenais' apartment when he received a phone call that his son had been removed from his care. She testified Monday that Cobenais was angry and upset after receiving the call.

Malban said in opening statements last week that Cobenais had no intention of shooting Highler. He said his client brought out the gun after Highler ignored several requests to leave.

Malban said the cocked revolver went off as Cobenais was waving Highler out the door and Highler swatted his hand.

Testimony continues today with 6th Judicial District Judge David Johnson presiding.