CAPE TOWN - The state believes Guatemalan murder accused Diego Novella exaggerated the amount of drugs he had and the effects thereof on the night Gabriela Kabrins Alban was murdered in July 2015.
State prosecutor Mornay Julius told the Western Cape High Court during final arguments on Wednesday that this was "in line with the defence that it took away his criminal capacity".
The 39-year-old 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 word “cerote” scrawled on it, which means piece of s***. 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 having taken 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.”
But, Julius contended that the court needed to go back to "where it all began" to understand how frustrations had built up in the months before Alban's death.
He detailed the deterioration of Novella and Alban's relationship after she was diagnosed with lymes disease which can only be managed and cannot be cured.
Alban often suffered mood swings, was frustrated and was in pain. Novella had become her caregiver, but after looking after her for a year and a half, he "needed a break from her".
Julius told the court that Novella was used to travelling three times a year and, after not travelling for 18 months, decided to embark on a spiritual journey to South Africa. Initially, Alban was not meant to be part of it, but Novella became convinced that ibogaine (a naturally occuring psychoactive substance) could cure her, and wanted her to receive alternative treatment at a spiritual retreat.
"Because of the condition of the deceased, that gave rise to problems. They could not operate normally in terms of doing things during the day, the deceased was photo sensitive and slept for most of the day".
Julius said the relationship had turned into a friendship but Novella was hopeful the relationship would improve again: "The accused also became unfaithful to the deceased. And that was one of the reasons why the deceased assaulted him when she found out. There was deterioration in their relationship to such an extent that the accused needed a break from the deceased. To such an extent that the frustrations built up to anger, to such an extent that it became difficult for the accused to live with the deceased. That is where the anger and frustration comes from, it escalated and culminated in what happened after the deceased insulted the accused."
Judge Vincent Saldanha said their relationship had complexities and frustrations had built up: "The trigger is a crucial part of the case, if it had not been for the trigger there might not have been the incident".
Throughout the day Judge Saldanha returned to the issue of criminal capacity pointing 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 the defence's version that it was psychotic-like. He said the accused was motivated by anger alone, influenced by the intoxication".
Final arguments are expected to continue on Thursday.
African News Agency/ANA