Diego Novella with his lawyer William Booth at the Western Cape High Court. File picture: Tracey Adams / ANA
Diego Novella with his lawyer William Booth at the Western Cape High Court. File picture: Tracey Adams / ANA

Judge loses his cool as Novella murder trial drags on

By Catherine Rice Time of article published Jun 19, 2018

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Cape Town - Western Cape High Court Judge Vincent Saldanha lost his patience on Monday and demanded progress in the trial of Guatemalan murder accused Diego Novella.

In an open spat with Novella's defence lawyer, William Booth, the visibly frustrated judge told him he was repeating himself and that "even in finality you can't get it right". Booth had been finishing his questioning of private psychiatrist Dr Konrad Czech.

But, Booth hit back: "I take exception to some of the personal comments you have made throughout the trial" and said he planned to take the issue further.

The trial of Novella, accused of murdering his American marketing executive girlfriend Gabriela Kabrins Alban in 2015, ground to a halt last week Monday when he stood up and told the court he had lied during testimony.

Since then, there has been an urgency to have Novella's mental state assessed and to determine whether he is fit to stand trial at present.

The defence's final arguments could not be delivered as a result and a verdict, expected by the end of this month, now seems unlikely. 

Novella was last week assessed by a psychiatrist from Victoria hospital, who believed his outburst had been as a result of a panic attack and that he needed his medication increased.

He was also assessed by private psychiatrist, Dr Konrad Czech, who testified on Tuesday, that Novella is suffering from "derealisation and depersonalisation". 

"Depersonalisation is a disturbance in a person's sense of themselves, it's one of the dissociative disorders, a recurrent feeling of estrangement, of detachment from himself. He said he didn't know if he was alive or dead, up or down... Derealisation is a sense of detachment from one's environment. He didn't know why he was there, usually experienced by people under a lot of stress. In this case, it appears he had been in that state for a while." 

The administration of medication at Pollsmoor prison also came under the spotlight. It emerged that Novella had stockpiled 22 valiums, and at one stage took four at one time. 

Czech said an overdose of valium would require hospitalisation and could even be fatal: "He didn't indicate though that it was in preparation for suicide." 

But the Judge commented: "If you don't have a mental illness the responsibility lies with the person to take the medication." 

Czech told the court that in his first consultation with Novella last week, he had come into the room "wild-eyed and babbling". 

"He made confusing and contradictory statements, he was very agitated and incoherent at times. His attorney hasn't been able to take instructions. And he hasn't been medicated. I recommended he be transferred from a cell with 11 others to the hosptial section. My feeling was that his mental state should settle and then he could return to court." 

He said he seemed to have improved when he consulted him for a second time, but had not been receiving his valiums or the other two medications that Czech had prescribed. He testified that if the medication was administered timeously and correctly it would take effect after three or four days.

But, Judge Saldanha was not convinced that such a lengthy delay was necessary: "He was in court yesterday and there was no agitation or incoherence. In fact, at the end of proceedings when I asked him, he said he had understood the proceedings". 

The Judge insisted that Czech's evaluation of Novella's mental state take place on Thursday morning and that the trial proceed thereafter.

African News Agency (ANA)

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