Bernice Cassar's estranged husband and alleged killer called his victim’s father right after the murder to tell him the couple's children were going to an orphanage, the court heard on Thursday.

Alarmed, Bernice's father called her phone, only to hear Roderick Cassar picking up her phone and informing him he had just killed his ex-wife. 

Bernice Cassar was shot dead on November 22 in Corradino, with her estranged husband becoming the first person ever charged with willful femicide, an aggravated version of the homicide offence. He is pleading not guilty. 

As the compilation of evidence continued on Thursday, the court heard how the victim sat on the ground, close to the rear wheel of her Nissan Qashqai, calling out for help before her husband allegedly shot her first in the chest before firing the fatal shot in the face.

A police inspector testified that those final moments of the mother-of-two, killed on Triq il-Baċier, Paola, were witnessed by a number of people who later recounted the episode to investigators. 

A Bolt driver gave a rather graphic description of the burly man, wearing shorts and a T-shirt, who fired at the woman sitting on the ground near the car. 

Investigating inspector Shaun Pawney, who testified at length during Thursday’s sitting, said the last lethal shot had blown off the lower part of the victim’s face. 

Suspect parked, waited for victim and blocked the road

Roderick Cassar arrived at the crime scene some 15 minutes earlier, driving his Toyota Ractis up the road, reversing and then parking the car at the upper end of the sloping road. 

As soon as the victim arrived in her Nissan Qashqai, on her way to work at a nearby factory, he drove in her direction, blocking her path. 

He then got out of the car and flagged passing traffic. A man who spotted the female driver seated next to the rear wheel of her car, tried to intervene, thinking she needed help after being involved in a traffic accident. 

But as soon as he approached, the accused menacingly warned him he had better leave unless he wanted to "land a shot himself".

The man backed off, hearing the alleged aggressor loading the small shotgun in his hands. That sound was followed by several shots, the eyewitness later told police. 

The incident was also witnessed by a couple who happened to attend a meeting at a nearby factory that morning. 

The woman later recounted how she had seen the accused shoot at his victim twice. 

The witness’s husband had only managed to get a profile view of the suspected aggressor. 

Witnesses try to chase alleged murderer

However, both picked out Cassar as the suspect during the identification parade held at police headquarters following his arrest. Both the couple and the Bolt driver had tried to go after the suspect when he drove off after the shooting. 

However, the female driver said that she changed her mind out of fear.

The couple who first followed Cassar in their BMW, also changed course after the wife, scared by the events just witnessed, told her husband to change direction. 

Shooting caught on camera

The victim’s loud cries for help had also attracted the attention of two workers at a nearby factory. One of them filmed the shooting. 

More footage was later gathered from the crime scene, said inspector Pawney, who had left home that morning, heading straight to Paola site where he found the victim’s lifeless body covered with a sheet, blood trickling down the sloping surface of the road.

The fatal facial shot had evidently been fired while the victim lay on the ground or in a low-lying position, explained the officer. 

A female constable testified that the alleged murderer had no weapon registered in his name and was not a registered licence holder. 

'Children are going to an orphanage'

After the murder, at 8.04am, Bernice Cassar’s father received a call from the accused saying “the kids were going to an institute”.

Troubled by that call, the victim’s father dialled his daughter’s number. 

But it was his son-in-law who answered the phone, telling him point blank that “he had killed her" (qtilthielek). 

One of Bernice Cassar’s cousins, who recognised the victim’s car on social media reports, also dialled the victim's number to check on her at 9.07am.

Again it was her estranged husband who answered the call, telling her that he had killed her.

The cousin lost consciousness in shock. 

Was report filed on eve of murder followed up?

The court was also told that a male colleague of the victim had filed a police report on the day before the murder. 

The man was receiving messages from the accused who appeared to suspect his estranged wife was having an affair with her colleague. 

“What steps were taken after that report on the eve?” interrupted Magistrate Joseph Mifsud. 

The magistrate had put that question during a previous sitting but had still received no reply. 

“That interests me too… You tell me about this report. Now I wish someone to tell me what steps were taken about that report. I think it’s a legitimate question. We still don’t know what steps were taken afterwards. It was a serious report. This person could have been saved,” observed the magistrate. 

No expression of emotion

The suspect remained calm throughout his interrogation, looking the inspector evenly in the eyes. 

He expressed no emotion when shown footage of his visibly terrified wife, calling out for help in those final moments, nor did he react when shown pictures of the victim after she was shot, according to Pawney. 

Cassar only reacted when the couple’s children were mentioned. 

The accused, right hand bandaged, tapped his feet somewhat nervously as he sat in court on Thursday, seeming to fight back his emotions at that mention of the children. 

Under questioning by parte civile lawyer Stefano Filletti, the inspector shed light upon relations between the Cassar couple prior to the incident. 

Before January, Bernice had never opened up about her troubled marriage, her family members later told police. 

In May, she filed a police report after her husband allegedly held a knife against her neck and that was when she left her matrimonial home and moved in with her parents. 

Mobile data extracted after the murder had revealed many missed calls from her husband, right up to the very eve of the murder, Pawney explained. 

There had also been another incident when the accused had apparently injured his right hand while banging against his wife’s car. 

Under cross-examination by defence lawyer Franco Debono, the witness confirmed that the incident lasted some seven minutes and that the shots were fired in the final part. 

Asked if the victim had been beaten, the witness said her injuries were compatible with gunshots. 

“Did he try to drag her into the car? What if I tell you that he did not have the weapon then?” asked Debono.

Asked whether the victim’s brother had also called the accused after the shooting, the inspector confirmed that the calls were “multi-directional".

“In fact, I told them not to call him any further.”

The case continues next week. 

AG lawyers Angele Vella and Darlene Grima are assisting Inspectors Wayne Camilleri, Shaun Pawney and Paul Camilleri in prosecuting. 

Lawyers Franco Debono and Marion Camilleri are defence counsel.

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

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