Roderick Cassar 'dragged estranged wife out of car like a ragdoll and shot her' eyewitness tells court

Two MCAST staff members gave eyewitness accounts of having seen Roderick Cassar dragging Bernice Cassar out of her car before gunshots rang out.

An MCAST staff member has given a detailed eyewitness account of how Roderick Cassar dragged his estranged wife Bernice out of her car in the moments before she was killed, as the compilation of evidence against the man continued before magistrate Joe Mifsud this morning.

Bernice Cassar, a mother of two young children, died last November after being shot in the face and chest with a shotgun. She and the accused, Roderick Cassar, had been going through an acrimonious separation at the time. She had also filed several domestic violence reports against her husband.

The eyewitness explained that he works at MCAST, with his office being situated around 80 metres away from the scene, across a football field."It was 22nd  November, 2022. The time was 7:50am." He had seen the incident from his first floor office in Student House at Mcast. His view of the area was unobstructed, he said. 

“I had been talking to a colleague when I noticed something strange happening. A stocky man holding a black object in his hand, hitting a car…I thought it was a road rage incident at first."

The witness said he had observed as the man  dragged the other driver, a woman, dressed in white, who was completely limp out of the car. He immediately called 112 to report the aggression, he said.  “He was slapping her in  the face, like he was trying to bring her to her senses.”

The woman had then started shouting for help, he recalled. Her assailant “was reaching into his car and dangling this black object in front of her, which I thought was a metal rod.”

But when the man pointed the "rod" at the woman, the witness realised it was, in fact, a firearm. He went to retrieve his phone, which had been charging. While doing so, he said, he heard shots.

He recalled noticing that the shotgun the man was holding was not a normal  hunting shotgun, but "some sort of tactical weapon." 

The aggressor had then driven off at high speed, at which point the witness had called 112 again to inform them of this fact.

Lawyer Marita Pace Dimech, one of the team of lawyers representing the parte civile, asked what else he had heard. He had only heard the victim's cries for help, he replied, adding that a man wearing a boiler suit had attempted to intervene but was sent away by the armed aggressor. 

The witness explained that he recognised the sound of the shotgun as he had been a hunter in the past and was now a target shooter. "The sound of a shotgun firing is different to a handgun's ‘whacking’ sound," said the witness. The firearm he saw that day had a shorter barrel than that of a hunting shotgun, he added. 

The staff member had feared that the aggressor would enter the school, he said.

Answering further questions asked by lawyer Stefano Filletti, also representing the victim’s family, the man described how the victim ended up out of her white SUV.  “He literally dragged her out of it [the white SUV]. He was pulling her from everywhere, her hair, arms, waist. She looked like she could not resist,  she was like a ragdoll. ..He laid her on the ground and tried to roll her over with his foot." 

The assailant had appeared to be trying to wake the woman up by slapping her, he recalled. "But there was no reaction at all from the woman. It was like she was dead, " said the witness. 

The accused had then propped her up against the car, shouting words which the witness said he could not make out. When she apparently regained consciousness, the woman had cried out for help several times, he confirmed. 

“Then the man retrieved the object, which turned out to be a shotgun, from his vehicle.” He saw the man pointing the weapon at the driver of a van, at which point the witness went to retrieve his phone. Although he was not observing the scene when the shots were fired, when he returned to the window, he saw the armed man running back to his car, throwing the shotgun into it, before driving off at high speed. The victim was "flat on the ground," he said.

Cross examined by defence lawyer Franco Debono, the witness told the court that the aggressor had brought out the shotgun out of the car and put it back several times during the incident, dangling it in front of the him "as if he was saying  'look what I have.'"

The aggressor had placed the shotgun inside the white SUV, before dragging the victim out, he said. Debono suggested that the man had been trying to put the woman inside the car, but this was rejected. "Impossible," replied the witness.

Debono asked whether the witness had already testified during the magisterial inquiry. He had not, replied the magistrate, explaining that the court had already checked.

The lawyer leafed through the case file, remarking that other witnesses had given "strikingly different" versions. The remark drew opprobrium from the prosecution and the court, as it had been made in the presence of the witness, who was still on the stand.

The shots weren't spaced out, the witness said, but repeated that he hadn't seen them being fired. "I was on the phone [with 112] at the time and I told them 'this guy has just fired.'"

Debono asked whether he had identified himself during the phone call. He was not sure, he said, but had received a follow-up call a few moments later. The next contact he had with the police was last week, he said, when he was asked to go to the depot to give his version of events. 

The next witness, another MCAST staff member told the court that she had heard a gunshot while she was at her desk on the 3rd floor,  and had heard raised voices. She had looked out of her window to see a woman crying in obvious distress, she said.

The crying woman had sat down against the vehicle's rear tyre on the driver's side. "That's as far as I saw" she said.

“The man had been standing in front of her. The woman was clearly in difficulty.” The witness confirmed that the victim had been alive after the first gunshot, as the sound of it is what had prompted her to look out of the window in the first place.

Victim filed three reports of domestic violence in the 5 months preceding her murder

Earlier in the sitting, a number of police officers stationed at the police Domestic Violence Unit testified about the reports filed by the victim. Cassar had filed three police reports in all:  in May, July and November last year. The last report had been filed at 7:10am on the 21st November -the eve of the murder. Through his cross-examinations of the witnesses, parte civile lawyer Stefano Filletti established that an arrest warrant had still been in the process of being issued when the murder had occurred and that, at that point in time, there had been no warrant  for the man’s arrest in place.

The estranged couple were regularly arguing over access to the children, the court was told by the DVU witnesses. Defence lawyer Franco Debono suggested that the accused had been unable to see his children in July because had been receiving treatment in hospital. The only way he could see his children was to ask the victim to bring them to hospital, he said. But when he had asked her, on July 8, 2022, she had refused citing risks to their health.

The couple had argued, during the course of which argument, the accused had threatened to kill Bernice, so she had blocked his number, one police witness recalled.

Debono suggested that the accused had obtained permission to see the children on the hospital grounds, but the witnesses were unable to confirm this. However, Bernice had told the police that on 14 July, that she had taken the children to visit their father in the hospital car park. She had not explained her change in stance to the police, one police officer confirmed under cross examination.

On that day, the accused had met his children in the daycare car park, while Bernice waited in her car. 

Roderick Cassar had subsequently asked his estranged partner to see the children on 16 July, but she had refused once again. The accused had erupted in rage on that occasion, damaging her car, the court was told. 

Answering a question by the court, one of the officers said he had not questioned why the victim had not wanted the father to see his children on that occasion.

Debono suggested that this had been a regular occurrence, but magistrate Joe Mifsud pointed out that it was up to the accused to report it to the police and that he evidently had not. "If she was denying him access, he could have filed a police report and she would have been arraigned," said the magistrate.

On 8 May, 2022 the victim had filed another police report about the accused having held a knife to her throat. The officer who dealt with that report had felt the need to inform his superior about the incident, even though the risk assessment score - which is calculated by social workers and not the police - was relatively low.

Then, on 21 November 2022, Bernice Cassar had visited the unit’s office to update her previous report against the accused. The day before, she had said, the accused had published a post on Facebook, writing among other things that “revenge is a must,” together with Bernice’s name and that of a male colleague of hers. 

While her sister had been speaking to the victim on her mobile phone, to inform her about the social media post, the accused had called the victim’s landline, telling her 8 year old son that he would “soon be in prison,” the court was told.

The magistrate asked what action had been taken after the report, pointing out that the report had been made on the eve of the murder. An arrest warrant was issued against the accused, the witness replied.

Roderick Cassar is facing 15 charges, including wilful femicide, holding his victim against her will, using violence, including moral and psychological violence, using a firearm during the commission of a crime and possession of an unlicensed firearm. Other charges include stealing the victim's mobile phone and car key, and the wilful damage to her property. 

He was also charged with breaching a probation order as well as with insulting and threatening a third party - believed to be a civilian who had tried to intervene on the morning of the murder.

The compilation of evidence continues tomorrow.

Lawyers Franco Debono, Marion Camilleri, Arthur Azzopardi and Jacob Magri defending Roderick Cassar, while lawyers Stefano Filletti, Marita Pace Dimech, Anne Marie Cutajar and Rodianne Sciberras are representing the victim’s family. 

Lawyers Angele Vella, Anthony Vella and Darlene Grima are appearing for the Office of the Attorney General. Police inspectors Shawn Pawney, Wayne Camilleri and Paul Camilleri are prosecuting.