Roderick Cassar held knife to Bernice's throat on Mother's Day, court hears

The court will continue to hear evidence on Tuesday against Roderick Cassar, charged with the wilful femicide of his estranged wife Bernice

The compilation of evidence against Roderick Cassar, 42 from Qrendi, continues on Tuesday after he was charged with the wilful femicide of his estranged wife Bernice. 

Bernice Cassar was shot in the face and chest by her former husband while driving to work last November. According to previous court testimony, he dragged her out of her car "like a rag doll" and threw her to the ground before shooting her.

Bernice Cassar had filed several reports of domestic violence against her husband and even moved out of the family home with her children in May.

On the eve of her murder, she had filed another police report, claiming her husband had breached a protection order issued by the court in July.

12:39 Thank you for following our coverage of today’s sitting. We will publish a comprehensive piece shortly. Nicole Meilak
12:39 The inspector steps off the witness stand. The court adjourns the case to 16 March at 10:30am, and orders the acts to be sent to the Attorney General. Nicole Meilak
12:35 Police officers' bodycam footage of the arrest shows the accused tossing the shotgun away. He is wearing the same clothes as those seen on the CCTV footage of the crime scene. Nicole Meilak
12:33 Mobile phone localisations of the accused's device show his route to Żurrieq and then Qrendi, where he was eventually arrested. The inspector also exhibited a number of Facebook posts where the accused made incriminating statements. Nicole Meilak
12:29 Cassar is seen running away from the scene of the murder, which the inspector said took place at precisely 7:55am. The police received a call from an eyewitness less than a minute after the shots were fired. Nicole Meilak
12:26 The defence complains that it cannot follow as they don't have a copy of the document which the witness is using to testify off of. The court points out that it only has a softcopy, which Inspector Pawney says had also been given to the lawyers well before the sitting. Nicole Meilak
12:25 The inspector walks the court through the phone calls made by the onlookers who testified yesterday. One of the callers had reported a scuffle where a man was pointing a weapon at a woman, which the caller misidentifies as an "AK". Nicole Meilak
12:22 The accused is seen waving vehicles away, telling them that there was a collision. Cassar is seen scuffling with the figure inside the car. The camera picks up a female voice screaming. Nicole Meilak
12:21 He describes a still from the the video which captures the moment that the accused started hitting Bernice's car window, Inspector Pawney points out instances in the footage where this corroborates other witness testimony. Seven seconds later, Cassar is seen moving towards the front of the car and retrieving a long object. A click is heard which could be compatible with the shotgun's spring being activated. Nicole Meilak
12:16 A camera 200m away from the crime scene captured Cassar's vehicle, identified from the damage to its rear bumper. At around 7:40am Cassar's vehicle is seen heading towards Marsa when it stops and reverses up a slope, where it stopped for several minutes. A short while later, Bernice Cassar's car enters the frame. Nicole Meilak
12:15 The inspector describes the timeline. A CCTV camera captured the accused getting into his car near his house and driving in the direction of Żurrieq. His vehicle is identifiable both thanks to stickers advertising his services and damage. Nicole Meilak
12:13 The sitting resumes. Inspector Pawney is administered the oath. He exhibits a CD containing an audio-visual presentation of the timeline and phone calls, that should be played in court at a later date. Nicole Meilak
11:58 The sitting is suspended for a short break. The next witness will be Inspector Shaun Pawney. Nicole Meilak
11:57 Inspector Wayne Camilleri explained that the accused had told the police that he had taken the SIM cards out himself and flushed them down the toilet. Nicole Meilak
11:55 Her testimony ends here. A court-appointed IT expert testified next. He told the court that he needed authorisation to request the victim's work email password. This was granted. He adds that the two mobile phones belonging to her, which were exhibited, had no SIM cards. He says this was prolonging the process of reconstructing the data. Nicole Meilak
11:54 She explained that the domestic arguments started because he was going out frequently in the evenings. Debono suggested that she only mentioned him going out once. "It didn't happen once. I had mentioned just one incident." Nicole Meilak
11:52 The lawyer asks about the accused's threat to avenge himself. "That was on Maundy Thursday, maybe you weren't paying attention..." quipped the witness, earning her a rebuke from the magistrate. "His father had COVID-19. She always took the children to see them [his parents]. Every Friday." Nicole Meilak
11:51 Debono asks about the hospital incident. "She took the children twice or three times before. That time she couldn't, listen she was a working mother of two children, she couldn't that time." Debono asked whether there was a specific reason for her reluctance. "She had work at the factory, too." Nicole Meilak
11:48 Debono asks about the accused's suspicions that Bernice had been unfaithful. The witness appears to have misunderstood the question or chose to go off on a tangent. The magistrate warns her to stick to answering the questions.

The witness said that Bernice had recently told her that he had started to tell her that she was being unfaithful. She heard the accused telling her that she is seeing someone else and as previously explained, the witness had intervened, vouching for Bernice.
Nicole Meilak
11:44 The lawyer asks whether other family members ever got involved in the arguments between him and the victim or take any sides. "His mother knew what he was doing to far as I know, his mother didn't speak to him."

Debono suggested that the witness would involve herself in the arguments, and she replied that she did.
Nicole Meilak
11:41 The defence asks whether Bernice would open up to her parents in the same way as she did with her. "She wouldn't tell them everything. But she would stay at their place many times."

"We would love him [the accused] like one of ours. He helped us," says the woman.
Nicole Meilak
11:39 Debono asks whether there had been an episode when Bernice had refused to allow her children to accompany the accused to Gozo. "The wind was force 5 and Bernice was afraid because of this. But Roderick got his way and the son went with him."

He asks whether the victim had ever objected to the accused spending time with his family and the children. To the best of her knowledge she hadn't, replied the witness.
Nicole Meilak
11:37 “I would help them [the family]. If Bernice had to go to work, I would take care of them. […] He always seemed happy with our help. He never showed me any disrespect.”

Debono asks whether the accused had ever beaten the children. He hadn't, said the witness, but added that his son was his favourite.
Nicole Meilak
11:34 Debono suggests that the accused would complain that that the family had taken over his children. “He got it in his head. He never complained about this to me,” the witness said. Debono rephrases the question, but the witness maintains that the accused never told her this. Nicole Meilak
11:32 Defence laywer Franco Debono begins cross-examining the witness. The magistrate advises her to avoid confrontations with the lawyer. Debono begins by expressing his sadness for her loss, but explains that he has a job to do. Nicole Meilak
11:30 "She told us that he was going to kill her and he did. Let me tell you, we are angry..." said the woman, before being stopped by the magistrate. He told the witness to avoid making certain comments. Nicole Meilak
11:30 Between the 14 and 21 November the witness had not been involved, she said. "On 22 November her colleague Daniela called me, she told me "He’s done it. He killed her." The witness is visibly emotional as she describes finding Bernice dead near her car.

“Her children were her treasure. She left the house not only for her own sake but also for her children's because she didn't want to leave them in that violence."
Nicole Meilak
11:26 Bernice called her sister, telling her to wash the children, and that she was going to speak to her lawyer and then go to the depot. The police had never sent for the witness, she said. The magistrate explains that the court had already heard first hand accounts of what happened at the depot and so she did not need to testify about it. Nicole Meilak
11:24 The police officer offered to escort them to depot, but Bernice did not want to go to the police with her children present. So they drove to Żebbuġ to drop off the children. On the way there, Bernice told her aunt that “the next thing he is going to do is kill me”. The witness said that there had already been police reports but nothing had been done. Nicole Meilak
11:22 The terrified family then went to the polyclinic. As they were leaving the clinic, a police officer came up to them – “I swear we did not call them ourselves” - and asked whether the Qashqai was theirs. “When we confirmed it was, he asked to speak to us.” Nicole Meilak
11:21 “When he said this [that he would be in prison], I wanted to die. I was so frightened.”

The next day he had sent the witness a phone message assuring the aunt that he would not harm her.
Nicole Meilak
11:18 Roderick had followed them in his car, stopping and blocking their exit. He got out of the car. "I saw the version of him I first saw on Maundy Thursday. He was enraged. He was attempting to open the car doors, making the sign of the cross and swearing that he would ‘surely get his revenge on us for taking his children’.” The witness said he kept kissing the windows.

“He told his son that, on Wednesday, he would be in prison.”
Nicole Meilak
11:15 "We were terrified. The daughter crying, begging him not to do anything to mummy. Then he said that Bernice was seeing someone else. I vouched for her, telling him that she had never been unfaithful to him." He slammed the door shut, walked around and opened the son's door, asking the boy whether he was coming with him. The boy refused. Roderick then told him that he would leave €70,000 for him with his uncle for when he turned 18, slammed the door and left. Nicole Meilak
11:14 On 13 November, the witness had taken Bernice and the children out for a trip. "As soon as Bernice was about to engage her seatbelt, Roderick opened the car door and stuck his head inside, demanding she give him her mobile phone.” Nicole Meilak
11:11 “When Roderick was in hospital, Bernice had not wanted to take the children, who were four and eight years old, inside the hospital because of fears they would get sick. But she decided to meet him outside,” the witness said.

But because she told him that she would not be able to visit him the next day because of work, he had dented the door of her car with his knee. Bernice was very scared after this incident and had asked for a protection order.
Nicole Meilak
11:09 "She had decided to leave the house. But she loved him till her last day. When she would come home from work, she would give the kids her phone and tell them to call their father. He had nothing to complain about, she would take good care of him." Nicole Meilak
11:07 Soon after she arrived at the aunt's house, Bernice's son called to see where she is. Bernice refused to go to the police, but her father convinced her to go the police headquarters. The aunt was later called to the police headquarters to clarify about the Maundy Thursday incident. Nicole Meilak
11:05 While the aunt had been on the phone with her Bernice's mother, telling her about the incident, Bernice had knocked on her front door in tears, telling her that the accused had put a knife to her throat. Nicole Meilak
11:03 “These children saw everything. The tears and screaming.”

The accused then went up to Bernice, who was showering, telling her that she had brought this upon herself. After showering, she washed the floor, picked up her work laptop and ran away to the aunt's house.
Nicole Meilak
11:02 On Mother's Day 2022, "this man left the house in the morning. It was a Sunday. He returned at around 6am waking up the children, telling them that they were going to Gozo. Bernice told him that she wasn't going to go. The accused had shaken a cupboard, telling her that "today I will smash this place up." According to the witness, he punched her in the face and threatened her with a knife. “He was pulling her hair and punching her in front of his brother.” He then left for Gozo with one of the children. Nicole Meilak
11:00 Bernice would never open up to friends about these problems, she said. "Ever since she started going out with him, she would only confide in me". Nicole Meilak
10:57 The prosecutor asks how she knew this. "I never caught Bernice in a lie. In her 40 years and more of life, she was never untruthful." The reason for the slap was because she had rebuked the accused for staying out so late. "He always wanted to be in command of everything," she said. “He refused to ever take care of the children.” Nicole Meilak
10:56 That night the witness had spent till 1am waiting for him but then she had to go home because she had work the next day. The incident was on Maundy Thursday. The next morning, Bernice had called her aunt to tell her that Roderick had returned home at 4am. "He went into the kitchen and slapped her in the face." Nicole Meilak
10:54 The aunt was at Bernice's house when the accused arrived at 10pm. He was visibly angry. "He said he would take revenge on her. I asked why and he said that she hadn't taken the children to his parents’ house. Bernice replied that she hadn't taken them because his father had COVID-19."

"I told him, 'Roderick, go to bed, listen to me.' I was worried, he was enraged."
Nicole Meilak
10:53 The witness had gone to the house, finding the accused gone. He had sent a voice message to the son saying "I am having fun". Later that night, Bernice had called the aunt again to report that he hadn't arrived yet. Nicole Meilak
10:50 The witness says that, one time, the victim had been helping the children with homework while the accused was stirring a pot of boiling water for pasta. "He told her that he wanted to scald her with it. […] She called me up, crying her eyes out.” Nicole Meilak
10:48 The situation deteriorated after that day. "From that day, until the day she fled the house, we ended up having to call her - she'd call me or I'd call her in the morning and before she went to bed."

“They were afraid of the accused, who wanted to go out with his friends. She didn't want him to do this, she was a family woman... the children were her priority. They never lacked anything."
Nicole Meilak
10:46 "My husband found plates, her cleaning up, my sister found food.... it was after an argument. Roderick had COVID-19 and was at the end of it, while Bernice and the children were in quarantine. Roderick went out in the morning. When he returned he served the food. He asked her whether she liked the food and she whispered that she did - but she only had a couple of spoonfulls because he smashed everything." Nicole Meilak
10:44 On New Year's Day 2022, she had placed a video call to Bernice, Roderick and the children, she says. "The daughter, four years old, answered crying her eyes out. I couldn't make out what she was saying. Bernice entred the frame and told me that she would explain what happened later." The witness called her husband and told him to go to their house because something was not right. Nicole Meilak
10:43 Vella asks the witness about the victim's relationship with the accused. At the court's request, the witness confirms she recognised the accused and points him out in the courtroom. The prosecutor asks Darmanin to describe the relationship. Nicole Meilak
10:41 Next witness is Bernice's aunt Sylvana Darmanin. "Besides being her aunt, I was like a mother to her. She was like the daughter I never had, she used to respect me so much," says the witness. Nicole Meilak
10:41 The witness returns the exhibits he analysed and hands his report to the magistrate's deputy registrar Nicole Meilak
10:37 Besides the certified particles, there were more particles found. On his clothes 17 particles in total. Inside the Toyota, particles of gunshot residue were found in the back seat, passenger seat. "This shows activity with a firearm. However, I am also informed that during the entry into the vehicle, shots were also fired [by the police]." Nicole Meilak
10:35 Cassar steps off the witness stand. Next witness is an independent expert in gunshot residue analysis. He had been appointed by the inquring magistrate to analyse samples taken from Roderick Cassar, his clothes and the murder weapon. On Cassar, a total of 28 particles of gunshot residue were found. "It is important to remark that we are looking for lead, antimony and barium. For gunshot residue to be certified as such, all three have to be found together." Nicole Meilak
10:32 The accused's DNA was also matched with swabs taken from a Toyota Ractis. Prosecutor Angele Vella asks whether other DNA was found in the Toyota. "It was mixed, but only his was identified". Nicole Meilak
10:30 Roderick's DNA was found on a hairband, a pair of glasses, the driver side door on one car and another on a Nissan Qashqai. His DNA was found on the Tomahawk shotgun, from the trigger, the magazine, the pump action and on part of the barrel. The accused's DNA was also found on the victim's top. Nicole Meilak
10:27 Next witness is Dr. Marisa Cassar, who is regularly engaged as a court expert on DNA analysis. She had been appointed as part of the magisterial inquiry into the murder. She exhibited her report to the court. Asked about here conclusions, she replied that there were seven pages of conclusions in the report. In a bid to simplify her testimony, the Magistrate asks who the profiles belong to. "There was blood matching Bernice Cassar and blood matching Roderick Cassar." Nicole Meilak
10:25 An officer from the Malta Police Force's IT department takes the stand next. Inspector Wayne Camilleri had requested the collection of recordings of all phone calls received by 112 and other police numbers around the date of the murder. The witness exhibits the copies. Nicole Meilak
10:23 Stefano Filletti, one of the lawyers for the victim’s family, asks whether the gunshot wound to which had penetrated the chest, would have been fatal on its own. It would not, replied the witnesses. The body also had bruises on both hands, compatible with grip marks. They were consistent with the time of death, said the witnesses. Nicole Meilak
10:21 Doctors David Pisani and Ali Safraz are next to the stand and are going to testify together. They had carried out the autopsy on Bernice Cassar. The cause of death was two gunshot wounds, one to the left-hand side of the face and neck and one to the left hand side of the chest. The fatal gunshot was that to the neck. Nicole Meilak
10:20 Soon after, at around 8:30am that same day, they received a second call-out with regards to an incident in Qrendi which was connected to the alleged murder. They were there as medical back-up. Joslin concludes his testimony here. Nicole Meilak
10:18 He says the injuries appeared to be close-range gunshot wounds. Indeed, there were three cartridges on the ground at the site of the shooting. The victim had wounds to the jaw region of the face and chest. At that point the medical team was sent away and a forensic team took over. Nicole Meilak
10:16 Joslin tells the court that he was called out to Paola on November last November over a shooting that involved one victim. He had arrived on the scene around 10 minutes after the shooting. While still on his way, emergency nurses had informed him that the victim showed no signs of life. She was covered with a sheet when he arrived. Nicole Meilak
10:13 Prosecutor Angele Vella has arrived, together with parte civile lawyer Marita Pace Dimech. Emergency medical consultant Jonathan Joslin takes the stand. Nicole Meilak
10:11 Roderick Cassar has been led into Magistrate Joe Mifsud's courtroom. Lawyer Franco Debono is also present. The sitting is not expected to take as long as yesterday's, which was three hours long. Lawyer Arthur Azzopardi has also entered the courtroom. Nicole Meilak
10:06 Magistrate Joe Mifsud has just delivered a judgement in a separate case. The sitting is expected to start in a few minutes. Nicole Meilak
09:42 In total, 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. Nicole Meilak
09:41 Some police officers stationed at the police Domestic Violence Unit also testified yesterday. At the time of the murder, an arrest warrant against Roderick was still in the process of being issued.

In total, Bernice filed three domestic violence reports in the five months preceding her murder. The last report was filed on the eve of her murder after Roderick 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.
Nicole Meilak
09:36 While we’re waiting, here is a brief summary of yesterday’s court hearing. An MCAST staff member gave a detailed eyewitness account of how Roderick dragged his Bernice out of her car in the moments before she was killed. He said that the shotgun did not look like a normal hunting shotgun but rather “some sort of tactical weapon”. Another MCAST staff member recalled hearing the gunshot from her desk on the third floor of the school. She had looked out of her window to see a woman crying in distress. Nicole Meilak
09:07 Magistrate Joe Mifsud, who is presiding over the case, is on his way to the courthouse. He will first deliver a judgement in a separate case before the compilation against Roderick resumes. Nicole Meilak
08:57 Some context to the story: Bernice 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. Nicole Meilak
08:56 Today’s sitting is a continuation from yesterday, when an MCAST staff member gave a detailed eyewitness account of how Roderick dragged Bernice out of her car in the moments before she was killed. Nicole Meilak
08:54 Good morning. We will be live-blogging the compilation of evidence against Roderick Cassar this morning, who is being charged with the wilful femicide of his estranged wife Bernice. Nicole Meilak