‘She was like a character out of The Exorcist’

By Fatima Schroeder Time of article published Apr 3, 2016

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Cape Town - The man accused of murdering US marketing executive Gabriela Alban in an upmarket Camps Bay hotel room says she looked like the protagonist in The Exorcist when he last saw her through a glass door after the pair took drugs together.

That’s according to a report before the Cape Town Magistrate’s Court, which revealed Diego Novella’s alleged hallucinations that night, included that he was getting Morse code messages as he waded into the sea after the killing and that he thought he’d seen musician David Bowie.

The report was submitted by a panel of health experts who assessed the Guatemalan, held in Pollsmoor Prison’s hospital section, after he was referred for evaluation at Valkenberg Psychiatric Hospital. While the panel found him fit to stand trial, their report indicated the court could consider a plea of diminished responsibility thanks to Novella’s prolonged drug abuse.

Alban’s body was found on July 29, with faeces on her head and a curling iron beside her.

Novella was reportedly semi-naked on Camps Bay beach when he was arrested.

According to the report, the pair had taken a combination of sceletium (a herb chewed apparently to prevent stress) and cannabis oil at the Camps Bay Retreat Hotel.

Novella told the panel he recalled arguing with Alban, but couldn’t remember large chunks of that day.

His sister Cecelia received a series of text messages from him in the early hours of that morning, some of which seemed unusual – such as pictures of a meteorite and flowers in the hotel lobby.

“After the period of the alleged offence, he waded into the ocean and felt that, whenever he closed his eyes, he was getting Morse code messages. He thought he saw a man who looked like David Bowie (although he knew it was not him). After the police had driven him around, he noted that two cats were sitting in the rain near the vehicle, which he felt was significant but could not elaborate why. He had similar experiences in the police station and in court,” the report said.

The panel’s recommendation in respect of his prolonged drug abuse is significant for Novella’s defence.

His attorney, William Booth, emphasised the importance of the findings, also pointing out the court had ordered the State to provide the defence with the contents of the full docket to enable them to prepare their case.

Forensic psychiatrists Sean Kaliski, Tuviah Zabow and Claudia de Clerq, as well as clinical psychologist Tania Swart, completed their report earlier this month and it was submitted to the court last week.

It revealed Novella started abusing alcohol at the age of 16 after his brother died in a car accident. He lived in the US at the time.

He returned to Guatemala but later moved back to the US where he attended a school in Houston.

Novella first started using drugs at a community college he attended in Houston and at 21 was arrested for drunk driving.

His mother died in 1999 and he used his inheritance to travel extensively and live well.

He graduated in 2000 with a business administration degree and enrolled at the LA Music Academy the following year.

However, he was entered into a drug rehabilitation programme and had to do community service a year later after he was found in possession of dagga and ecstasy.

He was later denied re-entry into the US.

Novella travelled extensively in Europe and also spent five months in a Buddhist retreat in Barcelona.

He met Alban in 1999 and they dated for about six weeks before continuing to have sporadic contact until about 2005.

Four years later she contacted him via email and told him she was unhappily married.

After divorcing her husband and inviting Novella to attend a family wedding with her in Mexico, their contact became more regular.

At one stage she told him she had been diagnosed with Lyme disease and took medication that affected her behaviour, according to the report.

Novella told the panel they had smoked dagga and took ecstasy together.

After they rented a house together, their relationship began running into trouble. Novella said Alban attacked him twice.

Novella travelled to South Africa in April last year to join a tour party in Nelspruit that explored spiritual nature sites and “high energy places”, such as The Cradle of Humankind and Tsodilo Hills.

The following month he booked into a retreat in the Magaliesberg to undergo spiritual treatment with ibogaine (a hallucinogenic compound derived from the roots of a west African shrub).

He later moved to the Western Cape, where he toured and attended yoga classes.

Alban arrived in July and they booked into the Camps Bay hotel, before going to Rome for 10 days.

They returned to Cape Town to fetch their possessions so he could take her to the Magaliesberg retreat, the report said.

They never made it and her body was found on July 29.

Novella is to apply for bail on May 6.

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Weekend Argus

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