He totally lost control and ‘I'm scared’ - cousin recalls Bernice Cassar message on the eve of her murder

Bernice Cassar’s cousin recalled the accused threatening her with a knife, in the presence of her children, because she had not wanted to go to Gozo with him on Mother’s Day

Murder victim and mother of two, Bernice Cassar
Murder victim and mother of two, Bernice Cassar

Murder victim Bernice Cassar sent her cousin a message on the night before her killing, describing her husband, Roderick as out of control.

"He totally lost control and I'm scared," read the message sent to Petra Jones who testified on Wednesday as compilation proceedings continued against Roderick Cassar, who stands charged with her murder.

Jones was testifying before Magistrate Joe Mifsud as the compilation of evidence against 42-year-old Roderick Cassar from Imqabba, who stands accused of the femicide of Bernice his 40-year-old wife whom he shot dead on 22 November last year.

Cassar is pleading not guilty to 15 charges including femicide, holding his victim against her will, subjecting the woman to violence, including moral and psychological violence, using a firearm during the commission of a crime and carrying a weapon witho

Jones described how Bernice was terrified of the accused, who had been repeatedly trying to contact her in the days leading up to her death. Undeterred by the fact that the victim had blocked Roderick Cassar’s number after his repeated calls, he had started sending her emails at work and calling her office landline.

In November, the month in which she was killed, Bernice had realised that the defendant would not let her go and had told Jones that she feared he would kill her, the witness told the court.

Jones was cross-examined by prosecutor Angele Vella from the Office of the Attorney General, describing how before she was killed Bernice had found around 30 missed calls from the defendant, who would do everything in his power to contact her, by any means.

The witness said that she used to be a close friend of the victim in her younger years, but after Bernice got married their meetings became much less frequent. She recalled one meeting where Bernice had burst into tears while describing what her husband would put her through on a daily basis.

On one occasion, the victim had told her that Roderick Cassar had threatened her with a knife, in the presence of her children on May 8 that year, because she had not wanted to go to Gozo with him on Mother’s Day.

She was so terrified that she wet herself, recalled the witness. The defendant had approached Bernice while she was cleaning herself up and told her “look at what you brought upon yourself” (“ara x’għamilt b’idejk”).

Unable to cope, Bernice had left the matrimonial home in Qrendi and moved in with her aunt, later moving in with her mother. When she had returned to pick up the children’s school uniforms, Roderick had insisted that the couple’s daughter stay with him and would only allow their son to go with the mother.

Roderick had not taken into account the fact that he was also terrifying the children, said the witness, recallying how on 1 or 2 July he had told Bernice that neither of them would enjoy the children. “She took a stand. She could not return. The children are growing up and there is no remorse on Roderick’s part, Bernice’s cousin recalled her as saying.

The victim had been trying to reduce her communications with the accused, in a bid to counter his manipulation and unending entreaties to go back home, said the witness.

At the same time that she was afraid of finding him to have damaged her car, Bernice felt sorry for Roderick, said the witness. This concern did not appear to be mutual, however. 

“He would treat her worse than a pet. Always telling her that she was good for nothing, that everything she did was wrong and everything that happened to her was her own fault,” recalled Jones.

Roderick Cassar’s controlling actions extended to his children, whom he forbade from taking toys with them to their grandmother, said the cousin, adding that Bernice was struggling financially as she had to pay for everything, because estranged husband did not pay maintenance.

Even while he had been in hospital with heart trouble, he had cowed Bernice into bringing the children to visit him in the hospital parking area, she said.

Things seemed to have settled down in August, only to pick up again the following month, Jones recalled from the stand.

The victim would tell her that her children would become upset when they saw their father close to her, and that Roderick often failed to attend custody visits.

In November, Bernice had realised that she couldn't escape the abuse, and things escalated when he violated a court-imposed protection order. On November 11th, the police had to be called after Roderick had made a scene next to Bernice’s car.

Also testifying today was the victim’s psychotherapist, Julien Attard, who reported that she had held 15 one-hour sessions with Bernice Cassar, who she described as trembling and visibly afraid. Attard also mentioned that one of the reasons given by Bernice for leaving the house was that Roderick had put a knife to her neck and thrown dishes at her.

Attard recalled Bernice telling her that in spite of everything, she still loved Roderick and was very sorry for him. Their last session together was on November 5, the psychotherapist said.

The compilation of evidence was adjourned to July 4.

Lawyers Franco Debono, Marion Camilleri, Arthur Azzopardi and Jacob Magri are appearing for Roderick Cassar. Lawyers Stefano Filletti, Marita Pace Dimech, Anne Maria Cutajar and Rodienne Sciberras are representing the victim's family as parte civile.

The Prosecution is being led by Lawyers Angele Vella, Anthony Vella and Darlene Grima from the Office of the Attorney General, assisting Police Inspectors Shawn Pawney, Wayne Camilleri and Paul Camilleri.