The mother of murder victim Gabriela Kabrins Alban has described her heartbreak and desire to die after losing her only child.
Doris Weitz told the Western Cape High Court on Tuesday that it had not been a “quick murder”, but a “lengthy and deliberately tortuous process” that was “cruel”.
She was testifying in aggravation of sentence in the trial of Guatemalan national Diego Dougherty Novella, 45, who has been convicted of the July 29, 2015 killing of Alban, 39, his American marketing executive girlfriend.
Alban was strangled and suffered blunt force trauma in the hotel room they were sharing at the Camps Bay Retreat, a luxury boutique hotel in Cape Town.
Weitz said she could not make sense of it: “It was a murder so cruel, I could not hold or comfort or hold her while she was suffering and dying. She was butchered, I can’t say some of the other things done to her. I could not say goodbye to her.”
The petite woman told the court that when Gabriela was three years old when she and her father, Howdy Kabrins, divorced, and mother and daughter had become companions as it had been just the two of them. Weitz, who is Mexican, had only spoken Spanish to her daughter.
In the past three years, she has spent R500 000 travelling to South Africa and has been to Cape Town 11 times to attend court proceedings.
She testified that her daughter had been married before, to an eminent paediatrician, but that the marriage had fallen apart after eight years.
Gabriela started dating Novella in 2013, and moved in with him in Guatemala in 2014. Weitz said Gabriela was desperate to have children and struck a deal with Novella, after an attempt to freeze her eggs failed.
“She made a deal with him, and said if he impregnated her, she would marry him and get him a green card to live in the United States. He broke the pact.” Novella seemed to scoff at Weitz’s testimony and appeared to listen intently to her every word.
“This murder has not only deprived me of my child, but also of the possibility of having grandchildren.”
Weitz described her daughter as an easy child to raise who was full of life and had a great sense of humour.
“She was my best friend.”
“Everybody loved Gaby, she was a sweet, loving woman. We would complete each other’s sentences.”
She described her as a smart businesswoman who had her own company specialising in assisting businesses with Hispanic interests, and had employed at least a dozen people.
“We sought advice from each other all the time, and grew even closer.”
In the three years before Gabriela’s murder, Weitz said she had had two bouts of breast cancer and her daughter accompanied to her doctor’s appointments and supervised her care. Weitz said she attributed being cancer free to Gabriela.
Her daughter was a “leader” and a “doer”, but this all changed when she contracted lymes disease. A tick infects the carrier, and the autoimmune disease “robs one of all energy and drive”.
Her daughter could barely get up in the morning. Her condition was aggravated by an initial misdiagnosis, and Gabriela “despaired about her reliance on others”.
“She was weak until the day she was murdered.”
When Weitz received a call from the American consulate to be informed of the murder, it was the worst day of her life. She told the court she became hysterical, but could not remember much else.
Furthermore, sensational and false news reports alleging a sex orgy in the hotel room and the consumption of large amounts of drugs had left her “deeply disturbed”.
The body was also not flown back to the United States immediately, compounding Weitz’s grief. She told the court that in terms of Jewish custom an autopsy cannot be performed on the body, and it must be buried with all its body parts. As Gabriela was an organ donor, she was buried without her brain. In terms of tradition, you are also supposed to be buried within 24 hours.
Weitz said the trial had taken its toll and the arrogance displayed by Novella had been hurtful. “He said he loved Gaby, but his actions speak louder than words.”
“No doubt he is sorry about the situation he is in, but his remorse is self-directed.” She said comparing his own mother’s pain, who lost a son in a tragic car accident, to her pain was “an insult”.
“He blamed a demon, he blamed drugs, at times he appeared to blame Gaby.”
Although Gabriela had lived with her mother after the divorce, she was extremely close to her father and stepmother Linda who have also been attending the court proceedings. As Weitz detailed Gabriela’s life and the effects of her murder, their faces contorted with grief.