Updated 5.50pm with details on events timeline, injuries.
Bernice Cassar predicted that her estranged husband would kill her, the murdered woman's aunt told a court on Tuesday as she slammed police for doing "nothing" following multiple reports.
Just over a week before she was shot dead, the mother-of-two told her aunt: "He has mentally drained me, he has drained me physically too but the worse is still to come".
When Sylvana Darminin asked her niece what she meant, she said: "He'll kill me".
The murder victim's aunt was testifying in the compilation of evidence against Roderick Cassar, who denies killing his estranged wife and the mother of their two children in Corradino on November 22.
Darmanin, who described Bernice as "the daughter I never had", detailed a list of domestic violence incidents, some of which happened in front of the children.
She described a video call on New Year's Day 2022, when she called to wish her niece a happy new year but heard a little girl sobbing in the background. Concerned, Darmanin sent her husband to check on the family.
He found Bernice, who was in quarantine at her flat, clearing up broken plates after an argument with the accused, who had "erupted and smashed the plates".
After that she opened up about her troubles and agreed to call her aunt every day before going to work and again at night.
"We were all worried about her," Darminin said. "We wanted to see them together as a family without trouble. But we feared Roderick."
In another incident, Darmanin described how Cassar was boiling pasta and threatened his wife: "I'll scald you with this water".
And on a third day, on Maunday Thursday, April 14, while on a 10pm video call with her niece, Cassar barged into the bedroom, threatening to "pay you [Bernice] back" for failing to take the children to see their grandparents, who had COVID-19.
He left and went out but Bernice told her aunt that he slapped her on the face the following day after she asked why he had come back home so late.
'Today I'll kill you'
Less than a month later, on Mother's Day, May 8, Cassar dropped a bag of pastizzi on the bed after Bernice told him she didn't want to go on a trip to Gozo.
He threatened, “today I’ll smash up everywhere,” rattling a cupboard. When Bernice said “what?” he punched her on the head and stormed into the kitchen. Returning with a purple-handled knife, he threatened, “today I’ll kill you with this,” and held the knife against her neck.
Bernice fled, unable to control her urine, her aunt testified.
She rushed out into the landing calling for help. Cassar’s brother and sister-in-law came down and intervened, dressing the children and taking one of them to Gozo for the day.
Bernice went into the shower and while there Cassar told her: “look what you’ve done today. You brought all this about.”
Later that day, Bernice arrived at her aunt's home, telling her all that had happened. “Please come with me to the depot (police headquarters). I cannot take it anymore,” she said.
Bernice’s father came along and took her to the police depot, where she gave her account.
A court had heard on Monday how social workers who assessed the couple following that incident deemed the situation to be "medium risk".
The aunt recounted another incident in July when Cassar was in hospital and Bernice had taken the children to see him. However, when she told him that she could not take them to see him again the next day, he reacted by smashing her car door on the driver's side.
Following that incident, a protection order was issued.
'Daddy, don't hurt mummy'
Darmanin described how, on November 13, a Sunday afternoon, Bernice wanted to take her children for a vaccine at Floriana polyclinic.
As soon as she was about to unfasten her seatbelt, Cassar poked his head inside the car, demanding she give him her mobile.
The couple’s daughter at the back, cried, terrified, saying, “daddy don’t hurt mummy.”
Cassar accused his wife of cheating and demanded their son come with him, but he would not.
He left but minutes later, when Bernice, her kids and her aunt were locked inside the car, Cassar drove up in his car, blocking their path.
He got out, in a rage, swearing and banging on the car, tugging at the handle, crossing himself and kissing the windows, “I’ll pay you back! For taking away the kids.”
He told his son: “on Wednesday I’ll be in jail.”
Her aunt turned cold at those words, she told the court.
"She told me that he would kill her and that's what happened".- Sylvana Darmanin
They did not dare leave the car to go to the polyclinic until the aunt’s husband answered their call for help. It was later that day that Bernice told her aunt she believed her husband would kill her.
Darmanin told the court that nothing was done by police after the knife incident and after Roderick Cassar banged on his wife's car. Police were to send for Darmanin but did not, she testified.
Just nine days later, on November 22, Darmanin received a call from a work colleague, who told her: "He's done it! He killed her."
Darmanin, who was out on the roof hanging out washing at the time. fainted and then later rushed to the murder scene.
"God knows how much she cried for her kids before she took her last breath! Her children were her treasure," she said.
“Nothing was done after that incident on the 13th! We are angry because nothing was done. She told me that he would kill her and that’s what happened,” she said.
Cross-examining, defence lawyer Franco Debono asked if it was true that Bernice's relatives had taken control of the children and that Cassar had complained because he and his family did not have enough time with them.
"He never complained or showed any ill feeling towards us as Bernice’s family," she said.
While she said Cassar loved and cherished his children and that there had been nothing untoward towards them, since 2020 he had "sometimes foulmouthed the kids".
Debono asked if the aunt had interfered in the couple’s arguments unlike Roderick’s parents who "took a step back".
She said that they always loved Bernice and Roderick, going out of their way to help them. “We loved him too,” she said.
She also said that Bernice would tell her mother-in-law about her matrimonial trouble.
Debono said that Bernice would taunt Cassar about being “fat” whenever they quarreled, but the witness did not know about that.
Asked about the accused’s suspicion of Bernice’s infidelity, the witness confirmed that suspicion but said that there was "definitely not" any other relationship.
Description of injuries
Earlier in Tuesday’s sitting, emergency doctor Jonathan Joslin testified about the “cold red trauma call” alerting him to the shooting. He found the victim covered with a sheet on the ground, blood trickling down from the spot where she lay near the Qashqai car.
There was no pulse and no sign of life.
The woman had gunshots mainly on the left side of her face and signs of peppering due to gunshot on her chest.
Those wounds were confirmed by forensic pathologist Ali Salfraz and David Pisani who carried out the autopsy on the victim the day after the shooting.
They confirmed in court that she had suffered two gunshots, on the left side of her neck and chest, adding that the fatal shot was the one on the neck.
Asked by parte civile lawyer Stefano Filletti, the doctors said that the chest injury alone would probably not have been fatal.
The victim also had bruising on the inner side of both arms, possibly compatible with grip marks.
Timeline of events
A timeline of events in the minutes leading up to the shooting was presented by investigating Inspector Shaun Pawney.
Starting off from Qrendi on November 22, footage showed Cassar leaving his home at around 7am. He arrived at Corradino at around 7.38am, reversing to a position at the top of the sloping road.
Bernice drove up in her Qashqai at 7.46am.
Her husband approached in his car, stopped, walked out and began to hit his wife’s car with his weapon.
A click, possibly compatible to the gun, was heard in the recorded footage.
As another driver stopped nearby, Cassar waved him on, saying that he and the woman had been involved in a collision.
But Bernice’s voice was clearly audible, saying “it’s not true.”
As her husband engaged in a scuffle with a third party, Bernice’s cries for help increased in intensity.
The shots were fired at 7.55am and within seconds, Cassar fled the scene as calls reached 112 from eyewitnesses.
More footage showed Cassar's drive back to his home where he later uploaded Facebook posts hinting that he was contemplating suicide.
Calls by concerned friends to Cassar’s mobile were also included in the timeline. In those calls the accused admitted that he had just killed his wife.
The timeline ended in the early hours of November 23 when footage from police body cams recorded the moments when SIU officers entered Cassar’s flat and arrested him.
The case continues in March.
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.
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