Diego Novella found guilty of Camps Bay hotel murder

2018-06-28 16:06
Diego Novella speaks with his lawyer William Booth during his court appearance at Western Cape High Court. (File, Gallo Images)

Diego Novella speaks with his lawyer William Booth during his court appearance at Western Cape High Court. (File, Gallo Images)

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The Guatemalan man accused of murdering his US girlfriend, Gabriela Kabrins Alban, in a Camps Bay hotel room has been found guilty in the Western Cape High Court.

Diego Novella was accused of murdering Kabrins Alban, a US sales executive, at a Camps Bay hotel on July 29, 2015.

Delivering his judgment, Judge Vincent Saldanha said: "In my view, the accused's version was wholly contrived. There is nothing in [his] conduct that his mind had been 'hijacked'."

Saldanha said he was satisfied that, at the time of the incident, Novella had the ability to distinguish between right and wrong.

"In my view, he knew exactly what he was doing at the time and it was a clear indication on his part of the intent to murder the deceased," he said.

Saldanha found that Novella had murdered Kabrins Alban at the Camps Bay Retreat Hotel "beyond a reasonable doubt".

Novella had pleaded not guilty to Kabrins Alban's murder, saying a concoction of natural substances he had taken while on a "soul journey" and detoxification process in South Africa had caused him to behave in an abnormal manner.

He said that before midnight on the day of her death, he drank alcohol, smoked cannabis, injected cannabis oil and took Sceletium.

Because of this, he thought he was being attacked by a demonic entity when he bludgeoned her head and neck and then slapped and strangled her. He said that in the morning before her death she had looked like a character in The Exorcist "with a grey aura".

But Saldanha said the way he remembered wrestling this "demonic entity" to the ground, and his use of the words "like a" demonic entity, showed that he knew what was happening.

Saldanha said the evidence and witness testimony led him to believe that Novella flew into a rage, probably over whether the curtains should be closed or not because Kabrins Alban was light sensitive.

Saldanha asked anybody who did not want to hear the details of her death again to leave the court. Her parents Howdy and Doris Weitz and her stepparents Alexander Williams and Linda stepped outside. They returned later, and clung to each other, gasping and sobbing at times.

Novella defecated on Kabrins Alban's face, stuffed food and chocolate in her mouth, threw Lay's crisps on her face and body, and Rascals sweets around her body. He put a hair iron between her legs to resemble a penis.

There was blood and faeces all over the bathroom floor where her bludgeoned body was found, and other horrific details were revealed.

He put a T-shirt with the word "ubuntu" on her body, neatly folded, as well as a note containing the Spanish word for "shit" - Cerote.

Saldanha said the psychiatric panel did not think he was psychotic, and felt he would be able to understand the trial.

He said Novella was a regular cannabis user who had built up a tolerance, and had never had a bad reaction before. 

The "low grade" cannabis he bought in Long Street, and the "high grade" cannabis he sourced from contacts was not tainted either.

The sceletium he used was a natural substance even used to treat colicky babies, he said.

He noted that on the day of her murder, Novella had the presence of mind to cancel a tennis lesson, the motor skills to cross the suspension bridge that links the villas of the Camp's Bay Retreat Hotel and the rest of the complex, and to walk down a footpath to cross the busy Victoria Road.

After he murdered her, he changed his clothes and poured a bottle of cologne over himself to conceal the smell of the faeces. He remembers wading into the sea, a supposed David Bowie sighting, and he ordered drinks for himself at a bar.
He even offered other patrons a drink.

This showed an organised mind, and not one "hijacked" by the substances as he had claimed.

He had convinced Kabrins Alban to come to South Africa for treatment for her Lymes Disease.

This was after he had had a positive experience at a detox centre in Magaliesburg, which was rounded off with a dose of a psychoactive drug that left him feeling good.

The court heard that Novella, who hails from a wealthy family and does not need to work, had a degree in Business Administration and had to abandon a music course in Los Angeles to go for drug rehabilitation.

The two dated briefly before Kabrins Alban married, they reconnected after her divorce.

Novella showed signs of stress towards the end of the judgment, pinching the bridge of his nose. 

When Saldanha delivered his verdict, he simply accepted it, and afterwards the families walked across the court room to hug and thank the prosecutors Louise Fiester-Sampson and Mornay Julius.

They also expressed their gratitude to Saldanha for the exemplary way he had handled the case.

The matter will be back in court on August 7 for sentencing proceedings to begin.


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