Father of murdered Gabriela Kabrins Alban, Howdy Kabrins is consoled by his wife, Linda after the sentencing of Diego Novella. Photo: Courtney Africa/African News Agency (ANA)

Cape Town - The family of American marketing executive, Gabriela Kabrins Alban, 39, wore purple, her favourite colour, to attend the sentencing of her killer in the Western Cape High Court on Thursday.

Judge Vincent Saldanha sentenced Guatemalan national Diego Dougherty Novella to 20 years behind bars for the brutal murder of Alban in the hotel room they were sharing at the luxury boutique hotel, the Camps Bay Retreat, in July 2015.

He said the "deliberate desecration" of Alban's body had been an aggravating factor, one of several that compelled him to sentence Novella to more than the prescribed minimum sentence of 15 years. 

On July 29, 2015, Alban's body was discovered by hotel staff. She had been strangled and suffered blunt force trauma. Alban's face was covered in chips and sweets, faeces had been smeared on her body, and a hair straightener placed between her legs. A note had been left on her body with the word "cerote" scrawled on it - a Spanish word meaning "piece of shit".

On Thursday, her mother Doris Weitz - who has travelled to South Africa from America 11 times to attend the trial - said she had hoped for a harsher sentence. 

Doris Weitz, the mother of Gabriela Kabrins Alban, holds photographs of her daughter in the Western Cape High Court. File photo: Catherine Rice / ANA

"Like I said in my testimony, I've been sentenced to life without parole and I wished that he had gotten that same sentence. He tortured my child, he took her away from me," Weitz said. 

She praised South Africa's judicial system and said she thought the judge was "magnificent".

Weitz said she would return to the States and enter a period of mourning. 

"This has not allowed us to grieve because we are here all the time, and every time they added salt to the wound when we heard the things that that monster did to my child," she said. 

Her husband, retired Judge Alexander Williams, said they would go home and have to learn to "live without Gaby". 

Alban's father, Howdy Kabrins and stepmother Linda, also attended the trial -- a total of more than 130 days. Kabrins said he too was impressed by South Africa's judicial system. 

"I'm glad to see justice prevailed and in South Africa, contrary to a lot of world opinion that the system here was corrupt, Judge Saldanha was the most dignified man, teacher, judge we have ever experienced," he said.

He plans to "go forward in Gaby's name", and raise awareness around domestic violence and femicide.

Novella, who is from a prominent and wealthy family who own a cement business in South America, pleaded not guilty and instead argued diminished responsibility due to drug intoxication. 

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," he claimed. 

In sentencing Novella, Saldanha said the effects of the intoxication had been "exaggerated" and that it had "fuelled his anger" but not been the cause of the brutal attack on Alban. It was therefore an aggravating factor.

Diego Novella at the Western Cape High Court on Thursday Photo: Courtney Africa / ANA

Novella "lived off a generous family inheritance", had never held down a job for a significant period of time and travelled extensively. 

His search for spiritual enlightenment had brought him to South Africa to attend a retreat in Magaliesberg where ibogaine, a naturally occurring psychoactive substance found in plants, was administered.

He had persuaded Alban to join him in South Africa, as he believed the spiritual retreat would help improve her health -- she suffered from Lymes disease and her condition had deteriorated significantly rendering her financially dependent on Novella and her mother. 

"Ibogaine was no more than an elusive cure for Lymes disease," Saldanha said on Thursday.

Summarising the testimony of Alban's stepfather, Alexander Williams, Saldanha said Novella had displayed blatant arrogance, particularly in his assertion that Alban had been at peace with him. 

Saldanha said his "half-hearted expression of remorse" had added insult to injury. Furthermore, he had said Alban's death had been "a mistake on both sides" and that he had not done it consciously.

Alban's mother, when she testified in aggravation of sentence, had told the court that she had lost the will to live.

The family's grief had been compounded by the media in America peddling false information.

Saldanha also highlighted the testimony of Alban's father, Kabrins, and said "of particular poignancy" was the moment he had shed tears for the pain Novella's family had experienced on hearing of his arrest. 

"The family was the voice of the deceased," Saldanha said.

He said Novella did not express "an unequivocal apology to the family".

Saldanha said Novella would be deported back to Guatemala upon his release, therefore "parole would be ineffective". He also said correctional services and the parole board would need to consult Alban's family before his release. 

The family has instituted civil proceedings against Novella in America.

African News Agency/ANA