The father of murdered 39-year-old American marketing executive Gabriela Kabrins Alban broke down heaving with sobs after telling the Western Cape High Court that his only child had been “brutally, brutally, brutally murdered, almost satanically”.
Howdy Kabrins took the stand on day four of the trial against Guatemalan murder accused Diego Novella, who allegedly killed Alban in the room they were sharing at an upmarket Camps Bay hotel in July 2015.
Kabrins said a “letter was placed on her body, an ugly message of hate” that had left him traumatised and still unable to process intellectually.
He testified that he had met the accused for the first time in April 2015 when he flew to Guatemala City with his daughter where she lived with Novella.
He was assisting her to return to South America as she had spent some months in Los Angeles for medical treatment. In about 2014, Alban had been misdiagnosed with Addison’s disease, and was prescribed steroids. She was suffering from fatigue, a loss of ambition, pain and insomnia, and the medication “appeared to compound her illness and problems”.
In three months, Kabrins told the court, his petite daughter had gained over 20 kilograms.
Kabrins said she was diagnosed with Lymes disease by Los Angeles doctors, confirmed by blood tests sent to Germany, and was “very, very sick”.
Doctors began weaning her off the steroids “and she was losing weight, but her overall condition, her body pains and her list of symptoms were many – skin conditions, lesions, rashes, pains in lymph nodes, no energy, anxious”.
When father and daughter arrived in Guatemala City, they went out for breakfast with Novella who, Kabrins said, did not offer to pay the small cheque. “As a father, I’m observing everything, I repeat everything. The tattoo on his neck startled me, with the number thirteen.”
That night, Kabrins stayed at their home. He testified that he went into the accused’s office, switched on Novella’s desktop computer and was shocked to discover pornographic images.
The following day, they left for a hotel at a famous lake surrounded by volcanoes. “He was tailgating every car in front of him. I was a passenger and I was scared. We got there safely, but again it was a difficult ride. It was very aggressive behaviour.”
Prosecutor Mornay Julius asked Kabrins if Novella took drugs while he was there. “When we sat down for a coca cola he showed me a little stone pipe made by the indigenous people there, that he used to smoke marijuana. Marijuana was smoked on a few occasions that weekend, I saw it. He offered me to smoke from it and I did. Gabi did not.”
He told the court he was not aware of his daughter ever using any substances. He returned to Los Angeles where he continued to communicate with Alban by phone and Whatsapp.
In July 2015, Alban flew to South Africa.
On July 29, Kabrins said he received a call from his ex-wife, Alban’s mother, at 3.30am. She told him Alban had been murdered. “Everyone was hysterical, that’s all I remember.”
“My world has changed ever since that phone call. I screamed and cried and cried and cried”.
The family immediately flew to Cape Town where Kabrins and Alban’s stepfather identified her body. “My only child, I will not have any grandchildren or have anyone to say kaddish (a prayer said in Jewish mourning rituals) for me when I die. My heart is broken. I want to ensure that I do everything possible for her and get justice and make sure that everyone knows I will always be her dad, and she will always be my baby.”
Court was adjourned to give Kabrins time to recover from the emotional testimony. Loud sobbing could be heard from the public gallery from several members of the Jewish community who have been attending court proceedings to support the family.
Outside the courtroom, Kabrins was comforted by his wife, with both weeping uncontrollably.
Earlier this week, a “spiritual medical guide” Rhoda Slabbert-Barron testified that Novella had attended a seven day cleansing programme at her Magaliesberg spiritual retreat several weeks before the murder. There he had taken ibogaine, a psychoactive substance found in plants.
He had planned to take Alban there as he believed the treatment would help cure her illness, but she died shortly before they were due to depart for the retreat.
Novella pleaded not guilty to a charge of murder on Monday. His defence is expected to argue diminished responsibility due to drug intoxication.