Two Dead in South City: After a Fatal Ambush, a Police Shooting and Fight for a Baby's Future

Two Dead in South City: After a Fatal Ambush, a Police Shooting and Fight for a Baby's Future

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click to enlarge A bullet hole in the side of his Cadillac is a reminder of the first time someone tried to kill James Cobb Jr.
A bullet hole in the side of his Cadillac is a reminder of the first time someone tried to kill James Cobb Jr.

Hundreds of people attended the funerals of James and Hajdarevic. At James', held at John L. Ziegenhein & Sons on Gravois, the pastor told mourners he thought God would put James in charge of all the turtles in heaven. They parked his prized Cadillac next to the hearse.

For her son's burial, Peggy limped up a small hill at St. Trinity Cemetery. The officer's bullet the day after the double murder had shattered her tibia and snapped her fibula in two, coming to rest in a tricky spot below her knee. Doctors hadn't been able to remove it. The short walk to the grave felt like a mile.

Peggy has spent the months since then recovering. An orthopedic technician at Mercy Hospital, she had been the family's breadwinner, but now she won't be able to return to work until late spring at the earliest.

She's using the time of physical recovery for an equally arduous task: trying to make sense of what has happened. In fewer than 24 hours, her son and his friend were murdered in front of her house, a cop shot her in the leg and her only grandson was taken away. It's been a lot to process.

click to enlarge Rey Hernandez dated Carolina Roberts before he was charged with murdering her ex-boyfriend, James Cobb Jr., and his friend, Haris Hajdarevic.
Rey Hernandez dated Carolina Roberts before he was charged with murdering her ex-boyfriend, James Cobb Jr., and his friend, Haris Hajdarevic.

Police say the shooting that left her leg fractured is under investigation. As for her son's killing, Hernandez was quickly arrested and charged with two counts of murder and two counts of armed criminal action. He admitted pulling the trigger and even pointed investigators to the murder weapon, police say.

The quick arrest is some relief to Peggy and her family, but the problems continue in a seemingly endless cascade. Someone busted out the windows of James' Cadillac a week after the funeral. About a week after that, Julian claims, Roberts' little brother fired a gun at him while he was driving on Gravois with his girlfriend.

Police arrested the teenage brother on first-degree assault charges, but he was freed in February when the case was dismissed.

"It was to the point where it was like, what's going to happen next?" Peggy says.

She has taken over her dead son's lawsuit against Roberts, asking a judge to award her full custody of Jae. She would at least like to see the child again, but the courts have been slow to act and Roberts has been unwilling to grant her access.

The Cobbs face a difficult legal battle. In a 2000 ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court strengthened the rights of parents — as long as they're considered "fit" — to raise their kids the way they want. That includes decisions about granting access to grandparents. State courts, including those in Missouri, have followed suit, Saint Louis University School of Law Professor Christine Rollins tells the RFT.

In cases where a parent has died, grandparents often stand a decent chance of winning visitation rights, so long as a judge decides it would be in a child's best interests. Custody is a trickier goal.

"It is an uphill battle, and I think where Missouri courts came down is the visitation is something they're willing to consider before the custody," Rollins says. "The mother would have to be unfit."

And classifying a parent unfit is its own battle. The state would have to take up the cause and prove in court Roberts was no longer capable of caring for Jae.

To Peggy, it feels as though the twenty-year-old is winning as a direct result of her son's murder. Roberts hasn't been implicated in the killings, but the Cobb family suspects the shootings stemmed from the custody fight.

"We don't want her to benefit from having James killed," Peggy says.

click to enlarge Carolina Roberts, the mother of little Jae.
Carolina Roberts, the mother of little Jae.

Reached by phone, Roberts tells the RFT, "Right now I don't have no time for a story, because I'm going through grief." She hangs up without saying whether it's James or Hernandez she mourns.

Roberts' mother, Burkett, is only slightly more talkative. She says police have "an innocent man locked up" for the murders of James and Hajdarevic. Asked about the police report that says Hernandez confessed and led detectives to the murder weapon, she pauses only briefly. "Just because you show a murder weapon, doesn't mean he did anything."

The Cobb family can't be trusted, she adds. "They're liars, point blank."

Peggy is incredulous. "Our son is dead, and we're liars?" she says.

She tries to be patient and leave everything in the hands of the court, but it is hard as the cases, including the criminal proceedings against Hernandez, drag on. His next court appearance, a hearing to set a trial, is scheduled for April 18 — James' birthday. His attorney hasn't responded to a request for comment.

Hernandez's mother, Garcia, says very little in a brief phone conversation. Her job is to protect her son, and she doesn't want to say anything about the case "that might incriminate him." But she claims her family hadn't even known about the custody battle between Roberts and James. She wants to add that she has sympathy for the Cobb family.

"My prayers go out to them," Garcia says, "because I know as a mother, this is one of the hardest things to deal with."

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