Guatemalan murder accused Diego Novella File picture: Jason Boud/ANA Pictures
Cape Town – Guatemalan murder accused Diego Novella will argue diminished responsibility for the 2015 murder of his 39-year-old American marketing executive girlfriend Gabriela Kabrins Alban.

On the first day of his trial in the Western Cape High Court on Monday, he pleaded not guilty. In his plea statement, he said he had been in an abnormal mental state after having taken hallucinogenic substances.

These were listed as sceletium, dronabinol (a prescription drug) and cannabis. "These substances had a disinhibiting effect on me, causing me to respond in an abnormal manner.”

Novella was arrested on July 29, 2015, after his girlfriend's body was discovered in the hotel room they were sharing at the luxurious Camps Bay Retreat Boutique Hotel.

Her body was found by hotel staff in the afternoon. Novella was not there, but was arrested later that day. He was sent for psychiatric evaluation at Valkenberg Hospital where a panel found he had diminished responsibility from drug intoxication.

He was, however, found to have criminal capacity and was deemed fit to stand trial. His statement revealed details of his relationship with Alban, whom he had been romantically involved with since 2013.

He said she had lived with him in Guatemala for about a year in 2014 and they travelled together often. In April 2015, Novella arrived in South Africa on his own and later went to a “cleansing clinic” in Magaliesberg.

While at the retreat, he made arrangements for Alban to attend the retreat with him so that she could receive treatment for Lyme disease. On July 10, 2015, she arrived in South Africa and checked into the Camps Bay Hotel.

Novella joined her the next day. The two subsequently travelled to Rome, but returned to Cape Town on July 25, and returned to the Camps Bay Retreat Hotel. Novella claimed they were in love with each other and that her death devastated him.

“I have up until now, spent many hours of agony and trauma thinking about her,” he said.

In his admissions to the court, he confirmed that Alban’s cause of death recorded in the post-mortem report was not disputed. It stated that her body had “signs of blunt force trauma as indicated by multiple bruises on the body specifically distributed on the neck, the upper and lower limbs”.

The post mortem report also indicated that there were signs of blunt force trauma to the neck and evidence of manual strangulation. There was also “injury in the genital area in keeping with recent sexual penetration”.

Alban’s family flew in from America to witness court proceedings. Her mother and stepfather, Doris Weitz and Alexander Williams, as well as her father and stepmother, Howdy and Linda Kabrins, said they were determined to see justice done.

By the end of the day, Alban's parents looked exhausted after spending hours on a hard bench outside courtroom six.

Howdy Kabrins was due to take the stand as the first witness, but court proceedings were halted to allow defence lawyer William Booth to consult with his client. Judge Vincent Saldanha insisted the plea statement needed more clarity and was not happy with the use of the word "dis-inhibited" saying it was ambiguous.

"His primary language is Spanish, if he gets into the witness box I don't want a debate about what he means by disinhibiting effect".

Earlier, Novella instructed his lawyer that he no longer needed a Spanish interpreter.

During his bail application, his request for an interpreter caused several delays. Novella is from a wealthy and prominent Guatemalan family who have run a successful cement business for over a hundred years.

He was denied bail in May last year as he was deemed a flight risk, with access to funds that could allow him to evade his trial.