She flew for 28 hours and endured two stopovers to deliver an impassioned plea to the man, Judge Vincent Saldanha, who will decide on the future of her brother.
Lucilla Maria Dougherty Novella is the youngest sister of Diego Novella, who was last month found guilty in the Cape High Court of the murder of his girlfriend, Gabriela Kabrins Alban.
The court found him guilty in a crime described as “murder fuelled by drugs and anger”.
It had been Novella’s defence that he and Kabrins Alban had been possessed by a demonic entity on the morning of July 29, 2015, when the murder took place.
The couple had been staying at the Camps Bay Retreat Hotel and had visited South Africa to seek treatment for Lyme disease, which Kabrins Alban suffered from.
Lucilla Novella testified in the mitigation and aggravation sentencing procedures which resumed this week after the court was in recess for a month.
She painted a picture of a once happy child whose life suddenly changed when his hero and older brother died in a car accident at the age of 23. Novella was 15 at the time.
“I think a part of him died that day with Paul. My whole family died that day with Paul,” said Novella as tears streamed down her face.
She said the family had not received grief counselling and she was of the belief that her brother was still not over the death of Paul.
The court heard how the death of Diego Novella’s mother at 63 further sent him into a deeper depression and set off his use of drugs.
While the family was concerned about Novella’s drug use, only one of his six living siblings ever confronted him about it.
In 2014, Diego Novella met Kabrins Alban and it was like their “old” brother had returned to them.
“Diego was completely infatuated with Gabriela. He was very proud of her, very happy,” said Novella.
Lucilla Novella testified that she met Kabrins Alban once at Christmas lunch in 2014 at the family home in Guatemala City and, although they made plans to get together again after Christmas lunch, that never happened.
Novella told the court of the devastation the family experienced on the morning of July 30, 2015, when they heard that her brother had been arrested for murder in Cape Town.
“This is not the Diego we know. Never did we or anyone we know or experience violence from him. It didn’t sound like Diego at all,” said Novella as she broke down for the second time while testifying.
Novella said the family had did not immediately told the ailing patriarch of the family as they feared for his health.
The court heard that their father passed away on April 10, 2016.
“He is an incredible human being. I am saying this with pure love from the bottom of my heart,” said Novella as her brother looked on and appeared very affected by her heartfelt plea to the court.
Another character witness called by Novella’s defence was the consul-general of Guatemala, Pedro Belli, who had assisted Novella to ensure that his rights were upheld.
“I was called by the ambassador himself and myself and the ambassador attended proceedings in the lower and high courts,” he said.
Belli wrote a letter in support of Diego Novella, but this was dismissed by state advocate, Louise Friester-Sampson, who said Belli was neither a doctor nor a psychologist and therefore could not attest to the mental or physical state of Diego Novella.
Belli was also at a loss for words when Friester-Sampson presented him with an article about Guatemalan femicide laws, saying the maximum penalty for such a crime in that country was 25 to 50 years.
“I am not aware of that as I have lived in Italy for most of my life,” was the reply from Belli when asked about his thoughts on Guatemala’s zero tolerance for femicide.