Guatemalan murder accused Diego Novella at the Western Cape High Court File photo: Cindy Waxa/AFRICAN NEWS AGENCY/ANA

CAPE TOWN - Guatemalan murder accused Diego Novella will be placed on suicide watch at Pollsmoor prison and will be moved from his single cell to a general one.

On Monday, instead of the defence delivering final arguments, the case took an unexpected turn when Novella told the court that he had lied when he testified.

He was immediately referred to a district surgeon after his defence lawyer William Booth told the court he was "gobsmacked" by his client's admission and believed he was emotionally distressed and in need of a psychiatric or psychological assessment.

State prosecutor Louise Friester-Sampson arranged for him to be seen by a district surgeon at Victoria Hospital who believed Novella had suffered a panic attack.

The doctor increased the dosage of his medication and said Novella posed a suicide risk, but that he was able to understand proceedings and would be fit for court by Tuesday provided he was given his medication.

READ: Murder accused Novella brings proceedings to a halt with shocking revelation

Friester-Sampson said correctional services would be instructed to maintain a closer watch on him, and his belongings would be searched so that anything of risk could be removed. 

Novella is on trial for the murder of his 39-year-old American marketing executive girlfriend Gabriela Kabrins Alban in 2015.

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 shit. 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 he took hallucinogenic substances.

These were listed as sceletium, dronabinol (a prescription drug) sometimes taken to treat cancer, and cannabis. 

“These substances had a disinhibiting effect on me, causing me to respond in an abnormal manner.” 

Judge Vincent Saldanha has repeatedly returned to the issue of criminal capacity. 

Last week during the State's final arguments, he pointed out that psychiatrist Professor Sean Kaliski from Valkenberg mental hospital where Novella was initially sent for observation, was "of the view that the whole incident arose out of anger. He was motivated by anger and Kaliski doesn't buy for half a minute your defence's version that it was psychotic-like. He said the accused was motivated by anger alone, influenced by the intoxication". 

The case was adjourned until Tuesday when Novella's lawyer is expected to deliver final arguments after first having him assessed by a private psychiatrist.

African News Agency/ANA