Bernice Cassar murder: Accused threatened to behead victim in front of her father

Joseph Cilia, the father of Bernice Cassar testifies in court that accused would return home ‘drunk and high on cocaine’

Bernice Cassar (left) was shot and killed by her husband Roderick Cassar (right) at the Corradino industrial estate (Photo: Facebook)
Bernice Cassar (left) was shot and killed by her husband Roderick Cassar (right) at the Corradino industrial estate (Photo: Facebook)

The man accused of murdering Bernice Cassar phoned her father three times after fatally shooting her, telling him that he had killed his daughter, the victim’s father has told a court.

On Thursday, Joseph Cilia, the murdered woman’s father, took the witness stand in Magistrate Joe Mifsud’s courtroom, recounting how Roderick Cassar had phoned him up twice to tell him he had killed her, before answering Cilia’s call to his daughter’s mobile phone.

He recalled that Roderick Cassar had answered the phone and said "didn't I already tell you that I killed her?" The witness said that he had passed out from shock at that point.

The father of the murder victim gave testimony as part of the case against Cassar, who maintains his innocence of killing his ex-wife and the mother of their two children in Corradino on November 22.

Cilia described how Roderick and Bernice were married, but that as time went on, their relationship deteriorated. Around the start of 2022, it started to get worse.

On January 1, 2022, as he and his daughter were eating lunch, he remembered getting a call from her.

He recalled, "She was crying and requested me to go for her as quickly as I could.” As he got to their Qrendi home, he discovered a big mess on the floor with food and broken crockery.

When Roderick returned, the father asked what had happened, to which the defendant had replied, "I'm not like you... I'm a volcano," before snatching his son away and carrying him into the bedroom.

Roderick informed Bernice she could go with her father if she wished, but that the son would be staying with him, according to the father. "He always used the son as a weapon so Bernice would always come home," the father explained.

His daughter had later told him that the altercation started when she said that she was fed up. He claims she also told him that Roderick had grabbed a knife and threatened to kill her with it.

"She spent the day with me and then went back home because of her son, as she didn't want to leave him alone with him [the defendant]," he said.

Cilia said that in March or April, Roderick had started going out in the evenings, returning drunk or high on cocaine.

In May, on Mother’s Day, his wife had told him that Bernice had not phoned in two days.

She contacted her sister, and while they were talking, Bernice had arrived at her aunt's house, crying, because there had been another argument, this time over Roderick's desire to visit Gozo with his family. She didn't want to go, but he wouldn't let her stay behind and had started beating her in the head and yanking her by the hair.

"When he informed her he was going to slit her throat, he put a knife to her neck and she had wet herself out of panic," Cilia recalled.

She had moved out and taken her children to live with her parents after that incident.

Roderick would phone her father on a regular basis, telling him to send her back home after lying low for the first two weeks.

“Roderick arrived outside the house one day, saying he wanted to apologise to us, but I told him that I didn't want to risk sending her back since if something went wrong, it would be on my conscience,” Cilia testified in court.

Roderick insisted that the children not live with their grandparents.

When Bernice had asked him to pay her rent, the defendant had replied that he would “pay for her stay at Mater Dei,” said the witness.

During Roderick Cassar’s hospital stay in July, the defendant would clash with the victim outside the hospital whenever she took the children to see their father.

The father testified that during one of the arguments, the accused had told Bernice "if I don't get to enjoy my kids, no one will.”

"That statement worried me greatly, and we never let her go anywhere alone except to work, where he eventually murdered her, and to the therapist."

Roderick would often draw a cross on his wife's car windows and "would hit the car instead of beating her," said the witness.

He said that on the suggestion of her lawyer, Marita Pace Dimech, Bernice had obtained a protection order but the trouble had intensified "when Roderick saw that nothing was being done about it.".

"She was terrified in the last week of her life. She reported him, but nothing came of it. He posted "revenge is a must" on the eve of the murder. He had threatened to behead her in front of me," Cilia stated.

The witness said that Bernice's daughter had asked her mother, a few days before her murder, whether she might have a birthday party in August, to which Bernice had responded, "I would probably not be still here."

The father stated that his daughter had followed her lawyer's advice and began preparing an affidavit detailing what she was going through. She had not completed it because her life had been cut short, he said.

Defence asks for public inquiry report

As the hearing wrapped up, the defendant’s lawyers Arthur Azzopardi and Franco Debono asked the court to order the prosecution to provide a full copy of the public inquiry conducted by retired judge Geoffrey Valenzia, into Bernice Cassar's death.

The prosecution requested more time to respond to the request and were given ten days to reply.

Murder captured on film

Court expert Martin Bajada, who had been appointed to gather CCTV footage from cameras in Corradino and Qrendi, also testified today. He told the court that he had also downloaded video footage shot by a passer-by that had captured the murder.

Bajada explained that the footage showed Roderick's car blocking the victim’s vehicle, before he assaulted and then shot her.

The case continues next month.

Attorney General lawyers Angele Vella and Darlene Grima assisted Inspectors Wayne Camilleri, Shaun Pawney and Paul Camlleri.

Lawyers Franco Debono, Arthur Azzopardi, Marion Camilleri and Jacob Magri were defence counsel.

Lawyers Stefano Filletti, Marita Pace Dimech, Ann Marie Cutajar and Rodianne Sciberras appeared parte civile.