Cape Town - The Western Cape High Court on Wednesday turned down a request by the defence in the trial of Guatemalan murder accused, Diego Novella, to be placed under psychiatric observation for 72 hours.
On Wednesday morning, Judge Vincent Saldanha ordered that Novella be assessed by a district surgeon at Victoria Hospital to determine whether he was fit to proceed with the trial or needed to be admitted.
The doctor who examined him deemed a three day observation period was unnecessary and premature. Furthermore, Novella had been alert ,orientated, had not been hallucinating and had displayed no signs of psychosis or mental illness.
Proceedings were stalled on Tuesday, when Novella had a meltdown in court that lasted for over two hours and ended with the victim's father and stepmother, Howdy and Linda Kabrins, being ushered out of the courtroom for their own safety so that the accused could be taken down to court cells by at least four court security officials.
Novella's outburst included shouting at Saldanha, demanding to speak to the Guatemalan consul, and refusing to hand back his defence lawyer’s cellphone. He also insisted that his lawyer place on record that he had used cannabis.
Despite defence lawyer William Booth's objections, Saldanha insisted the trial resume on Thursday, as Novella was able to understand proceedings.
Booth argued that defence expert and psychiatrist Dr Tuviah Zabow had seen his client on Tuesday, and believed he was psychotic. He said the court needed to look at the "broader picture" and the possibility that Novella's behaviour could be repeated "cannabis aside".
Saldanha dismissed his arguments and warned Novella that "cannabis is still illegal in this country", urging him to desist from using it. Novella agreed to fully cooperate.
Novella has been charged with the July 2015 murder of his American marketing executive girlfriend Gabriela Kabrins Alban.
Alban’s father Howdy Kabrins described Novella's abnormal behaviour on Tuesday, as violent: “Everyone was frightened in the courtroom. Everyone. He started screaming he knows what’s going on”. His wife Linda said: “It was very scary. Anything could have happened. I thought at any minute there could be gunshots”.
Alban’s mother, Doris Weitz, said she had “missed the show” as she hadn’t wanted to attend court because of graphic blood spatter evidence that was being led: “It’s very frustrating, all the delays, we come from very far, but we have no choice as to what happens”.
Novella has pleaded not guilty to Alban's murder and instead will argue 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 dis-inhibiting effect on me, causing me to respond in an abnormal manner.”
Novella was arrested on July 29, 2015, after Alban’s body was discovered in the hotel room they were sharing at the luxurious Camps Bay Retreat Boutique Hotel.
Her body was found by hotel staff in the afternoon. Novella was not there, but was arrested later that day.