When Bernice Cassar filed a domestic violence report alleging that her estranged husband held a knife to her throat, social workers classified her case as “medium risk”.
Cassar wound up dead a few months later.
That detail emerged from court testimony on Monday in the case against Roderick Cassar, who is pleading not guilty to killing his ex-wife and the mother of their two children.
If found guilty, he faces a stricter-than-usual sentence as the case is being tried as a murder with 'femicidal intent' - the first in local history since laws were amended to introduce that concept last year.
Earlier in the court hearing, eyewitnesses who saw Cassar being beaten and killed recounted their memories of the November 22 killing.
Police constable Melvyn Galdes told the court that Bernice Cassar underwent a risk assessment after she filed a report on May 8, 2022 alleging that her husband placed a knife against her neck.
That assessment, conducted by social workers, resulted in a score of 11, a medium risk, he said in response to questions by parte civile lawyer Stefano Filletti.
Pressed on the matter, Galdes told the court that social workers had spoken to both Bernice and Roderick Cassar before making their assessment.
Galdes said that despite the risk assessment, his superiors advised him to speak to Cassar. He did so, with the accused opting for his right to silence.
Police pressed ahead with domestic violence charges against him, and a hearing was scheduled in court.
When asked why the police had not arrested Cassar and instead opted to charge him through a court summons, Galdes said he could not reply as that was a decision taken by his superior.
The court heard from other police officers with the domestic violence unit, who described a series of reports that Cassar filed against her estranged husband, all following that May 8 one.
The final report, the court heard, came just one day before she was killed.
On the morning of November 21, 2022, at around 7:10am, Cassar had gone to update a previous report she had filed a week before.
The report concerned a Facebook post that her husband had posted and which her sister had told her about.
'Revenge' warning in Facebook post
In it, Roderick Cassar named Bernice and a male work colleague and wrote that they had “broken up a family”.
“Revenge is a must”, he had added.
Roderick Cassar then dialled his mother-in-law’s landline number and spoke to the couple’s eight-year-old son, telling him that he [the father] was “going to end up in jail,” a court heard.
Asked by the court whether police had followed up that report, sergeant Charlene Calleja said that she had informed her superior about the incident. Her superior had ordered that an arrest warrant was to be issued against Bernice’s husband.
Family lawyer Marita Pace Dimech, who had assisted the victim throughout her domestic troubles, asked what the original report, filed on November 14, concerned.
The witness said that Bernice Cassar had reported receiving calls and emails from her estranged husband, in breach of a protection order.
“Did the police do anything between November 14 and 21?”asked the lawyer.
The witness could not answer that question because she was not involved at that stage.
Answering a question by defence lawyer Franco Debono, the police officer said that Bernice Cassar had not told her that her husband had called her about the children, because she had left the matrimonial home and he wanted them to get back together.
The court also heard that the accused had turned up outside his son’s school, followed his wife to her car, grabbed her mobile and accused her of cheating on him.
Officers told the court how, according to Bernice Cassar, the situation between herself and her husband turned unbearable from around March 2022 onwards.
She was upset that her husband would go out with his friends without telling her, the court heard, and he accused her of infidelity.
On one occasion in April, Roderick Cassar had told her that he was going to his father’s house, to fetch his mobile phone.
But when Bernice Cassar called her father-in-law, he told her that Roderick was not there.
Angered by her call, Roderick hit her with a bag and told their son that his mum was “seeing someone else.”
Then came the May 8 incident in which he allegedly held a knife to her throat. Bernice Cassar had moved out of the family home after that incident, taking the children with her.
In another incident in July, she had taken the children to Mater Dei Hospital, to visit their father who was receiving treatment there. They met in the hospital car park.
Bernice Cassar would later tell officers with the domestic violence unit that her husband had turned violent, slamming the car bonnet and cursing, when she told him that she would not be bringing the children to visit again, two days later.
Officers said she had initially refused to take the children to see their father in hospital, arguing that it was a risky environment for the children and she did not want them to get sick.
A mess at Qrendi apartment
Superintendent Keith Arnaud, in charge of the Homicide and Drug Squads, described the scene he had photographed inside Cassar’s Qrendi apartment where the accused had been holed up after the shooting.
Following hours of negotiations with the suspect who threatened to shoot at police or himself if they entered his home, members from the Special Intervention Unit finally forced their way into the apartment.
Arnaud heard them ordering the suspect to put down his firearm as he and other officers waited downstairs on the landing inside the block.
Minutes later, the accused was escorted down.
He asked for some clothes from his flat.
So Arnaud went into the apartment, immediately spotting a 50-cm patch behind the front door that appeared to be riddled with tiny holes, probably made by a gunshot.
The kitchen was a mess, with a box of cartridges on the table, other cartridges scattered around, along with cigarette butts.
There was also an empty mobile phone cover and the keys to a Qashqai model.
Arnaud snapped 13 photos to preserve the scene as he found it.
The case continues on Tuesday..
AG lawyers Angele Vella and Darlene Grima prosecuted together with Inspectors Shaun Pawney and Wayne Camilleri.
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.
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