Police will on Thursday afternoon charge the lead suspect in the fatal shooting of Bernice Cassar

Sources said that Roderick Cassar, 42, will be arraigned at around 2pm.

He is expected to be the first person ever charged with femicide - an aggravated version of the homicide offence. 

The concept was introduced into local criminal law earlier this year, as a result of amendments sparked by the violent murder of Paulina Dembska in Sliema on New Year’s Day. 

Under the new law, judges are encouraged to dole out harsher sentences for murders committed with "femicidal intent". Defendants in such cases can no longer argue that they committed the crime out of "passion" - one of the most commonly used lines of defence in such cases. 

Cassar was arrested in the early hours of Wednesday after officers stormed his apartment in Qrendi at the end of a 17-hour standoff. The weapon believed to have been used in the murder was seized. 

Officers were also digging through CCTV footage lifted from the murder scene trying to place Cassar at the scene of the shooting. They were also gathering civilian testimony.

Under the 48-hour charge or release rule, police have until the early hours of Friday morning to arraign him or release him.   

Cassar is being represented by lawyers Franco Debono and Marion Camilleri. 

Lawyers Stefano Filletti and Marita Pace Dimech are appearing for the family as parte civile. 

Bernice Cassar was shot twice and police believe the killing is a consequence of a history of domestic strife between her and her estranged husband.  

Times of Malta has reported how the victim had repeatedly reported the suspect to the police over domestic violence, with a report filed as recently as Monday.  

The government has launched an independent inquiry to establish whether any state institutions failed to prevent the killing.   

Cassar's murder sparked an outpouring of grief and anger among broader society, with political groups, civil society organisations and women's rights activists all issuing statements in reaction to the killing. 

Both the PL and PN's women's wings said society had "failed" Cassar, while former president Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca called for a "complete revision" of existing laws to better protect women. 

The Malta Women's Lobby said authorities had to take immediate action to prevent future such cases, while the emPOWER group of civil society organisations called for court protection orders to be subject to continuous monitoring and more effective - and efficient - handling of domestic violence cases. 

"When is tougher action going to be taken against gender-based violence?," the emPOWer platform asked. "And when are we going to implement an educational campaign for all ages and levels of society to bring about a positive culture change?"

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