Cape Town - “It came as a big shock. An immense shock. A huge shock”.
This is how the family of Diego Novella reacted to news that their brother had been arrested for murder.
His brother, Lucas Dougherty, told Weekend Argus about what the family has endured for the last two years and seven months that the trial has been under way.
Novella stands accused of murdering his girlfriend, Gabriela Kabrins Alban, at a Camps Bay hotel on July 29, 2015.
He testified that his mind had been “hijacked” as a result of a cocktail of drugs which he ingested on the night before the murder and that he thought he was wrestling with a “demonic entity” when Kabrins Alban was killed.
“It was early in the morning in Guatemala when my twin sister received the call from Diego to say that he was arrested for murder. The family and all our friends could not believe it,” said Dougherty.
Novella, 44, is the fifth child of seven children. One sibling died in a car accident and five live in Guatemala.
Dougherty’s twin sister, Lucilla, was the first family member to rush to Novella’s side in the days after his arrest and various relatives and friends have been travelling to Cape Town since 2015 to support him during the trial.
“It’s not easy knowing that the accused is my brother. The first time I saw Diego was at Pollsmoor Prison. I just held him. He was so happy to see someone from his family. I assured him of my unconditional love for him as a brother. I did not feel judgmental,” said Dougherty.
The family has been media shy after many “incorrect” facts about them have been published, he said.
“We do not own the monopoly on the cement industry in Central America. Diego’s wealth has been taken substantially out of proportion. It is a business owned by a very large family,” said Dougherty.
Novella’s arrest was publicised in Guatemala but, said Dougherty, the family was not approached for interviews.
He admitted that Novella had problems with substance abuse but stressed that his brother had never been violent and that he was “well loved” in Guatemala.
“He was inspiring to me. He was always better in sports than me. He played soccer, tennis, rode BMX bikes.”
According to his younger brother, Novella holds a business degree from the American International University in Los Angeles, which is where he and Kabrins Alban met.
“Pollsmoor is a dangerous place. He is in a cell alone. He has not had any trouble with any of the other inmates.
“Diego is more composed now. I worry how long he can take it,” said Dougherty who told Weekend Argus that it is a four- to four-and-a-half hour process to see his relative for 20 minutes.
“We are there at 5am so that we could go in with the first batch of people.”
Dougherty has been sitting alongside the mother and stepfather of the victim since he arrived for the trial and has often been seen chatting to all four parents.
“I can relate to what Gabriela’s family goes through. The rest of my family also. Gabriela’s family is very courteous and nice. There are no bad feelings,” said Dougherty.
Asked how he copes with the testimony detailing the defiled the body of Kabrins Alban after the alleged murder, Dougherty said: “It’s shocking and unpleasant. I try to digest it. It’s been hard. I can only imagine how unpleasant it must be for Gabriela’s family.”