Cape Town - Guatemalan murder accused Diego Novella has been referred to a district surgeon to assess whether he is able to follow court proceedings and is fit to stand trial.
The defence's final arguments were due to be heard on Monday, but instead had to be abruptly adjourned after Novella stood up and told Judge Vincent Saldanha he had lied in his testimony.
Novella is on trial in the Western Cape High Court for the murder of his 39-year-old American marketing executive girlfriend Gabriela Kabrins Alban in July 2015.
Defence lawyer William Booth said he was "gobsmacked" by his client's admission and despite consulting with him on Saturday when he was "very depressed", was hearing of this for the first time.
After a brief adjournment to allow Booth to consult with Novella, Booth told the court that the accused seemed to be "in a very bad emotional state" and should be seen by a psychiatrist or psychologist.
"It puts me in a somewhat difficult position to be able to proceed until I can clarify his position regarding his comment earlier," Booth told the court.
Booth said "from a psychological point of view, Novella was not well" and he needed more time to consult with him.
State prosecutor Louise Friester-Sampson argued that the court needed to establish whether Novella could understand proceedings and suggested it would be quicker if he was referred to a district surgeon to assess whether he is fit to stand trial.
Judge Saldanha postponed the matter until lunchtime to give the State time to determine how soon he can be seen by a senior district surgeon.
The 39-year-old Alban's body was discovered in the room she was sharing with Novella at an upmarket boutique hotel in Camps Bay on July 29, 2015. She had been strangled and had suffered blunt force trauma.
Her face was covered with chips and faeces and a note had been left on her body with the Spanish slang word “cerote” scrawled on it, which means piece of s***. A fingerprint expert has testified that Novella’s fingerprint was found on the note.
Novella was arrested the same day, a few hours after hotel staff found Alban’s body.
He has pleaded not guilty.
In his plea statement, Novella, who is from a prominent and wealthy family in Guatemala, claimed he had been in an abnormal mental state after having taken hallucinogenic substances.
African News Agency/ANA