Femicide victim Bernice Cassar's cause of death was a gunshot to her face, the compilation of evidence against her husband has revealed.
Witnesses told police that the mother-of-two was dragged from her car by her estranged husband Roderick Cassar, who then took a shotgun from his own vehicle and shot her twice in the chest and face.
Details of the murder that shocked Malta exactly one week ago were revealed in the first hearing against Cassar on Tuesday.
It is the first case of murder with femicidal intent in Maltese criminal history.
Cassar stands accused of stalking then shooting his wife Bernice in the head and chest on Triq il-Bacier, Paola on November 22.
Prosecutors say that apart from murdering his wife and fleeing to his house in Qrendi, Cassar also used violence against her, stole her mobile phone and car keys, breached a protection order and harassed her. Cassar, they add, did not have a permit to use the shotgun he allegedly shot her with.
The 42-year-old is pleading not guilty to all those charges.
Inspector Wayne Camilleri was the main witness in the first hearing on Monday. He told the court how he was called to the scene and saw the body of the victim lying at the rear wheel of her white Qashqai car, which had both doors on the driver's side open and the front window completely smashed.
It was evident that the victim was shot in the chest and the face and there were at least three green cartridges lying on the road.
Witnesses told police that they first thought the attack was a traffic accident, describing how a man had driven in front of the victim's car, got out and pulled her from the car. Then he got a weapon and shot her twice. A third shot hit the road.
The victim was shot as she drove to work and colleagues on the scene were able to help identify Cassar as the suspect, leading police to his Qrendi home, where he was holed up in the main bedroom, alone.
A 17-hour standoff
Camilleri told the court how officers negotiated with Cassar over 17 hours, during which he threatened to kill himself.
However, he told them that he was afraid he would survive and so asked police to shoot him instead, insisting that he did not want to go to jail.
Eventually, he was persuaded to leave and came out with a shotgun in his hand. He was arrested and later took part in an identity parade, in which all witnesses identified him as the subject.
Cassar refused to answer most questions about the incident when interrogated by police, saying only that he was "sorry for what happened to her".
He cried when the subject of his children was raised but showed no emotion when he was shown a photograph of his dead wife after she had been shot in the face, the inspector told the court.
Inspector Camilleri said that the murder was caught on CCTV and lasted about seven minutes.
The autopsy later showed the cause of death was the shot to her face, not the first one to her chest, he said.
The case continues on December 14.
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1.20pm The prosecution says that since they were allocated one hour today, there are no more witnesses. The magistrate reminds the parties of the dates of the next sittings and the accused is escorted out of the hall.
Thank you for joining us this afternoon. We'll have a summary of today's proceedings above soon and we'll be back next month when the case resumes.
Police sergeant takes the stand
1.11pm Sergeant Miriam Lia from Paola police station is next to take the stand. The witness says that she was on duty when she got news of the shooting. She was told a female had been shot dead. The murder took place in front of a printing company.
She describes the same scene that we heard about earlier. The victim's body was covered in a white sheet, with a large wound on her face. The victim was identified as Bernice Cassar, residing in Qrendi and she was certified dead on site.
Witnesses saw shooting
1.07pm The cross-examination of the inspector turns to the subject of Cassar's suicide contemplation. Asked about his request for police to shoot him, the inspector confirmed.
At times Cassar threatened to shoot himself if police dared to approach. Cassar wanted to shoot himself but was afraid that he might remain alive. So he asked police to shoot him instead.
Franco Debono has a final question. He asks the inspector if there was anyone who witnessed the actual shooting. The inspector confirms that there was.
With this, he finishes his testimony.
Timing of pulling the weapon
1.05pm Defence lawyer Franco Debono asks if Cassar had the weapon in hand from the start.
The inspector says that an eyewitness saw the aggressor first approach the victim, argue angrily, and pull her out of the car. He then turned to his car and fetched the weapon.
1.02pm The inspector is asked to confirm whether the victim had any other injuries, aside from the shots. However the inspector cannot answer this, saying a colleague would be better able to.
Details from the murder scene
12.59pm In response to questions, the inspector gives some more detail about the murder scene.
He says that the front and back doors on the driver's side were open wide. The body of the victim was found on the same side as the open doors, near the back tyre.
The front window was smashed by the accused himself, the inspector says. It was possibly hit by the weapon itself but it was not shot at. All the shots happened outside the vehicle, he explains.
CCTV and mobile phone footage
12.57pm Inspector Camilleri tells the court that footage was gathered from companies located around the scene, as well as mobile footage. The footage shows the commotion between the accused and the victim. However, the inspector does not want to go into much detail as he was focused on the operation at Qrendi.
The court will see the footage at a later stage.
12.54pm Franco Debono, the lawyer for the accused, has something to ask.
Debono: Do you know how long the murder incident lasted?
Inspector: Approximately seven minutes.
Colleague filed report day before murder
12.51pm The inspector tells the court that a colleague of the victim had filed a police report on November 21, the day before the murder. He had some trouble with the accused because apparently, Cassar had a hunch that there was something going on between his estranged wife and this man.
The inspector presents this report, along with all the reports filed by Bernice Cassar about domestic violence.
They were all filed with the domestic violence unit at the police depot. Officers who worked on them will eventually testify.
Magistrate Mifsud asks why police did not press charges under arrest. The homicide inspector says he did not go into that.
Fatal shot to the face
12.49pm Earlier the court heard the results of Bernice Cassar’s autopsy. The fatal shot was the one in the face, not the first one on the chest, the post mortem found.
No emotion on being shown picture of victim's face
12.45pm The inspector continues to tell the court about the interrogation. Cassar repeated that he was sorry "for what happened to her". When his children were mentioned, he repeated that he was very sorry and began to cry.
When the inspector showed him photos of the victim at the crime scene, including one of her face after she had been shot, he was reluctant to make eye contact. But then he looked and again showed no emotion, the inspector says.
In court, Cassar has also shown no emotion so far this afternoon.
'Sorry for what happened to her'
12.41pm Cassar was interrogated on the evening of November 23, right after the identity parade. He did not want to answer any questions, simply saying that he “was sorry for what happened to her.” But he showed no emotion, the inspector tells the court.
The magistrate stops that. No opinion is allowed.
Cassar kept saying that he was tired and wanted to sleep, the inspector tells the court. So police allowed him to rest. The second interrogation began at 11am the next day.
Asked about the victim, Bernice Cassar, he did not even want to reply as to what relationship there was between them. But he confirmed her workplace. As for her hours, he said, “I don't know. She sometimes worked from home too.”
12.39pm The suspect was taken into a room, with eight others who resembled him, all wearing a white overcoat and shoe coverings. The witnesses all identified the suspect in the midst, even when the lineup was changed. Witnesses are allowed to view the parade twice. Most identified Cassar twice.
Suspect taken to hospital
12.35pm Stills from the crime scene showed that Cassar was possibly still wearing the same clothes: a green t-shirt and black shorts. They were tested for DNA and gunshot residue.
Cassar was transported in ambulance to Mater Dei hospital. He was certified as fit both mentally and physically and was discharged. He was escorted to police HQ and examined by psychiatrist Beppe Micallef Trigona, a psychiatrist. Cassar was declared fit for interrogation and court.
12.31pm The Special Intervention Unit of the police was the first to go into Cassar's Qrendi home. His brother cooperated and even gave the police his key. The unit headed to the second floor, and found his door was closed. Police had to shoot at the lock to open it.
They began to order Cassar to come out. He was in the main bedroom. Police rapped out instructions and he came out, shotgun in hand. They told him to put it down. There was a green cartridge lying next to the weapon.
Cassar appeared scared. But he obeyed and was led downstairs, where he was arrested and had his rights read to him.
Suspect asked police to shoot him
12.29pm At this stage negotiations started between police and Roderick Cassar, who was in his Qrendi home. It was a very delicate process lasting until the following day. Police confirmed that he was alone. Cassar repeatedly said that he wanted to kill himself. But he could not do it and he asked police to shoot him. He kept insisting that he did not want to go to jail. He told police not to approach and to go away.
Aim to protect children
12.24pm Their greatest issue was the couple’s children, Inspector wayne Camilleri tells the court. At that stage, the police did not know where they were. There was a risk that they could have been with their father. But then they got to know the school and verified that the children were there. That was very important for police since the suspect was still possibly armed.
Police surround accused's home
12.21pm Another inspector, Paul Camilleri, also joined the crime scene. The police Rapid Intervention Unit was helping by patrolling the area around the suspect's home in Qrendi. They informed the police at the crime scene that right in front of a block of apartments, Roderick Cassar's vehicle, a silver Toyota Ractis, was found. Inspector Wayne Camilleri then left Paola and headed to Triq Il KRtaginizi, arriving there around 9am. Various police teams were already present in Qrendi. The road was blocked to limit access to residents. There was a great possibility that Cassar was inside.
Victim shot twice, third shot hit road
12.20pm One witness said that he was sure he heard three shots. But the victim was shot twice. Police searched for the third shot and found that the road surface had been hit nearby.
Agressor manhandled victim, then shot her
12.17pm Witnesses told police that at first they thought it was a traffic accident. One witness described how a silver car drove in front of the victim's car, and an angry driver got out and was very violent with the victim. They thought it was a traffic accident that escalated.
He was very angry and began to manhandle her. Then he got a weapon from the car and shot her, at least twice.
Links to husband
12.16pm Third parties began to tell police that her husband Roderick was possibly involved. She had been open with her friends. She told them that he was making life very difficult for her. They were going through a separation and she was not living with him.
Shot in the chest and face at close range
12.13pm The body was facing upwards and the victim had been shot on the chest and in the face. Shots appeared to have been caused by a shotgun. It was very evident that they were fired at very close range, the Inspector tells the court. There were various cartridges on the road, at least three, green in colour. Forensic later said that they found more than three.
Shaun Pawney, another other inspector was already on the scene, he spoke to various possible eye witnesses. Some said they were colleagues of the victim. She was Bernice Cassar. Her colleague recognized her car. They were sure it was her.
Dead body on the road
12.10pm Inspector Camilleri describes how he immediately went to the site, arriving 8.15am. The scene was already preserved, and the road closed with police tape. A white Qashqai car was in the middle of the road. On the driver’s side, near the back tyre lay a dead body, and a lot of blood on the road. Both doors were open on one side of the vehicle and the front window was completely smashed.
Homicide inspector takes stand
12.08pm First to take the stand is Inspector Wayne Camilleri from the homicide squad. He says that on November 22 at around 8am he got a call from the control room. Various calls were reaching police about a woman who had been shot, possibly killed in Paola on the corner of Triq il-Bacier.
Mapping out the case
12.06pm Magistrate Joseph Mifsud begins by setting out the dates for the next hearings: December 14, 15 and 19. He says that he wants to give due time to the case, assigning three more sittings to reach prima facie stage, which is when the court will decide if there is enough evidence for the case to continue. He also says that witnesses who have testified in the magisterial inquiry do not have to testify again in the compilation unless re new facts.
12.05pm The presiding magistrate in the case is Joseph Mifsud. Defence lawyers are Franco Debono and Marion Camilleri. Attorney General lawyers Angele Vella and Darlene Grima and Inspector Wayne Camilleri are prosecuting.
Lawyers Marita Pace Dimech, Maurice Meli , Ann Marie Cutajar and Rodianne Sciberras are parte civile. Stefano Filletti is also assisting the family of the victim.
Accused's family told to leave
12.03pm Attorney General lawyer Angele Vella points out that there are family members of the accused who may be called to testify in the future, so they should leave the room. There’s the accused’s father, brother and sister-in-law. There’s an agreement with the defence that they are to leave. There are victim’s relatives too but apparently those who may be called to testify are not in the room.
Accused in court
12.02pm We are in hall 9. The accused is seated on the front seat, next to a nurse and a guard. Another two prison guards are behind him. At present the hearing hasn’t started yet but some issues have already cropped up.
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