Arguments in mitigation of sentencing in the case of convicted murderer Diego Novella were heard at the Western Cape High Court. File picture: Cindy Waxa /African News Agency/ANA

Cape Town - A psychologist testifying in mitigation of sentence in the trial of convicted murderer, Guatemalan national Diego Novella, described him as the "black sheep" of the family, in the Western Cape High Court on Monday.

Judge Vincent Saldanha insisted, however, that this was a "colloquially inappropriate term" and Giada del Fabbro revised the description to "lost sheep" or "individual with a problem who didn't feel like he belonged to the family".

Del Fabbro, who drafted a pre-sentence report after interviewing Novella, told the court that Novella had taken the role of rebel and only received attention from his parents for problem areas in his life like his academic performance.

As the fifth child of seven siblings, he felt his older siblings were favoured and that he had been displaced by the younger ones. 

In June, Novella was convicted of the July 2015 murder of his American marketing executive girlfriend Gabriela Kabrins Alban in the hotel room they shared at the Camps Bay Retreat, a luxury boutique hotel. Alban had been strangled and suffered blunt force trauma.

Del Fabbro testified that Novella has as an antisocial personality disorder, as well as a substance use disorder and may have been "less inclined to act on the anger he felt towards Alban if he hadn't had the disinhibiting effect of the drugs".

During his trial, Novella argued diminished capacity as a result of psychoactive effects of substances he had ingested that included sceletium and cannabis oil and claimed that he thought Alban was a "demonic entity". 

But in his judgment, Judge Saldanha rejected these claims and said Novella had been able to distinguish between right and wrong. 

Del Fabbro testified that Novella had not displayed any signs of mental illness during her interview with him, had been cooperative, intelligent, warm and charming. 

She said he had never had formal employment but had worked at the family's cement business at various times.

His problems with substance abuse began in 1989, and these included ecstasy and cocaine. According to Del Fabbro, he stopped using hard drugs in 2008 and began taking more natural drugs like magic mushrooms, cannabis and Ayahuasca. 

In his early twenties, Novella was diagnosed with obsessive compulsive disorder and attention deficit disorder and while his "belief system about the world was not conventional, it was not bizarre". 

Del Fabbro said Novella had met Gabriela when they were students and they had dated briefly. In 2013, they started dating again and she moved in with him in Guatemala City in 2014.

"The relationship was volatile and characterised by regular conflict. They brought out the worst in one another." 

She said the two had verbal arguments and Alban would physically attack him: "Kabrins (Alban) would spend the day sleeping and wake up at night and expect Novella to engage then."

Alban had been diagnosed with Lymes disease and was often in pain. Del Fabbro said Novella was impressed with the effects of ibogaine, a naturally occurring psychoactive substance, and wanted Gabriela to try it. This was why he had brought her to South Africa. 

She told the court that while the relationship had been characterised by conflict, "he went to considerable lengths to care for the deceased". 

"He is recorded as saying he was in love with her and wanted children with her." 

Del Fabbro said Novella had expressed remorse during the trial, and "would make different choices if he had to do it again". 

Furthermore, he said he would have chosen to leave the hotel to avoid the situation that led to the murder. 

"Novella was called a faggot by the deceased. He did leave the hotel room temporarily." 

She said he may have been drawn to relationships where he constantly felt that he was failing. "Being told he was a faggot, would have resonated with the part of him that felt inadequate." 

His older brother's tragic death in a car accident had also been a "significant loss", further exacerbated by his mother's death in 1999.

She said Novella lacked coping skills and hostile relationships could "increase the risk of violence". 

"It would be important for healthy family relationships to be supported and maintained to lower the risk of re-offending. It is important for Novella to have contact with family, either by telephone or visits."

His behaviour in prison, described to Del Fabbro by a nursing sister and prison officials, had been "exemplary". 

Kabrins' family members, who have travelled to Cape Town from America to attend the trial, appeared exhausted and distressed by the testimony.

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African News Agency (ANA)