Diego Novella stands accused of murdering his girlfriend, Gabriela Kabrins Alban, at a Camps Bay hotel. Picture: Courtney Africa/ANA
Cape Town - Murder accused Diego Novella faced a gruelling week in the witness box this week and his testimony will continue on Monday.

The 43-year-old Guatemalan stands accused of murdering his girlfriend, Gabriela Kabrins Alban, at a Camps Bay hotel on July 29, 2015, and has been giving testimony for the past fortnight.

State prosecutor Mornay Julius grilled Novella about the events leading up to Kabrins Alban's death.

Novella changed much of his original testimony in chief under cross-examination and often told the court: “I do not have an answer,” when questioned about his initial testimony.

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Last week, Novella, in a surprise move, directly addressed the parents of the deceased and this resulted in an emotional outburst from the father of Kabrins Alban, Howdy Kabrins.

Much of this week’s testimony focused on Novella’s drug use. He claimed that he and Kabrins Alban were under the influence of drugs on the night of the murder and that he wrestled with a “demonic entity”.

Novella claimed that the state, police and media had “tainted his image”.

“This is an effort to tarnish my name in all ways possible. I have never been violent and I have never hit Gabriela,” said Novella.

In his testimony, Novella admitted that he began using drugs at the age of 21.

“I used ecstasy, cannabis, cocaine for 10 years but I stopped using cocaine in 2008, mushrooms, LSD and other substances,” said Novella.

He claimed that on the night of the murder he and Kabrins Alban smoked cannabis, ingested cannabis oil and a drug called sceletium.

Sceletium is a plant that is only found in South Africa and it has a long history of use as a traditional medicine by local tribes.

It has been used to enhance mood and cause relaxation and euphoria. Traditionally, the roots and leaves were fermented and then chewed. It has also been used as snuff, smoked or made into a tea or a potion.

Sceletium contains chemicals that are thought to cause sedation or sleepiness.

Police found two vials containing cannabis oil in the hotel room and the oil contained a drug called dronabinol.

The drug is used to treat nausea and vomiting caused by cancer chemotherapy.

It is used after other drugs have failed to treat nausea and vomiting. Dronabinol is also used to treat loss of appetite and weight loss in people who are HIV-positive.

Novella claimed that he acquired the drugs to help treat Kabrins Alban, who suffered from Lyme disease.

Lyme disease is caused by a bacteria, Borrelia burgdorferi, that is transmitted to humans through a bite from an infected black-legged or deer tick.

Novella told the court that Kabrins Alban suffered from mood swings and often verbally attacked him for no reason.

He stressed that while under the influence of drugs he never displayed violent behaviour.

Julius hammered Novella about his drug use but the Guatemalan was adamant that he did not keep a record of how often he used drugs.

Novella revealed in court this week that he had been diagnosed with Attention- Deficit Disorder as well as Obsessive Compulsive Disorder when he lived in Guatemala and received medication from a psychiatrist for these disorders at various stages in his life.

He admitted the drugs he consumed while on holiday in Cape Town in May and July 2015 were not prescribed by a doctor and that both he and Kabrins Alban used the drugs to “self-medicate”.

Next week the court is expected to hear testimony from psychiatrist Mike West on the effects of drugs on the body.

Weekend Argus