Murder accused Diego Novella. Picture: ANA

Cape Town - The Western Cape High Court on Wednesday ordered a medical assessment of Guatemalan murder accused Diego Novella to determine whether he needs 72 hours of psychiatric observation.

On Tuesday, Novella brought court proceedings to a standstill by shouting at Judge Vincent Saldanha, demanding to speak to the Guatemalan consul, and refusing to hand back his defence lawyer's cellphone.

Novella has been charged with the July 2015 murder of his American marketing executive girlfriend Gabriela Kabrins Alban. 

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Alban's father and stepmother witnessed Novella's meltdown and described it as frightening.

Alban's father Howdy Kabrins told the African News Agency(ANA): "Everyone was frightened in the courtroom. Everyone. He started screaming he knows what's going on". 

Kabrin's wife Linda, Alban's stepmother, 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."

On Tuesday, Novella demanded that his lawyer William Booth place on record that he had had cannabis. He took Booth's phone and used it to call the Guatemalan consul as well as several family members. He refused to return it, and it took four court officials to get him under control and take him down to the court cells.

Novella was taken from court to Victoria Hospital where the district surgeon recommended he be admitted for 72 hours of observation. 

Booth told the court on Wednesday that Novella's blood was drawn and a urine sample taken which was given to the investigating officer to be taken to the laboratory for analysis.

"I saw the accused and my observation was that he was still in a confused state," Booth told the court. 

He said Novella could not be taken to the psychiatric unit immediately as the warrant indicated he be taken to Pollsmoor prison hospital. 

Judge Vincent Saldanha said he was not convinced Novella had been "confused", but could have been in "an intoxicated state".

But Booth said it remained unclear if his state was caused by the use of cannabis. "He was speaking about different things all at the same time, moving from one subject to another, not able to be clear or give detailed accounts of various aspects I was asking about."

Novella indicated he wanted Booth's attention and instructed him to place on record that he had problems with the way he was brought to court on Tuesday.  Booth relayed his client's objections, saying "he was brought to court yesterday on a different route, and the way the vehicle was driven, the speed, the manner in the sense of it was driven in a reckless manner from Pollsmoor to court".

Saldanha was clearly nonplussed by the complaint.

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State prosecutor Louise Friester-Sampson told the court the district surgeon had requested to see the accused again before making a final determination on whether he should be assessed for 72 hours.

Saldanha granted the request and Novella was taken to Victoria Hospital. The district surgeon's recommendation will be relayed to the court later on Wednesday and will determine whether proceedings will need to be postponed or the trial can continue.

Novella appeared calm and composed as he was led down to the holding cells.

He has pleaded not guilty to the 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 disinhibiting 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. 

Alban's face was covered in chips, as well as faeces, a curling iron beside her. A note had been left on her body with the word "cerote" scrawled on it - a Spanish word meaning "piece of s***".