Western Cape High Court Judge Vincent Saldanha is expected to sentence Diego Novella for the murder of his American marketing executive girlfriend, Gabriela Kabrins Alban, 39, on Thursday.
It has been over three years since the murder that made international headlines and shocked some of Cape Town’s most hardened and experienced detectives.
On July 29, 2015, Alban’s body was discovered in the hotel room she was sharing with her Guatemalan boyfriend. She had been strangled and suffered blunt force trauma.
During the trial, Warrant Officer Stephen Fourie, the head of detectives at the Camps Bay police station, told the court the crime scene was unlike anything he had ever seen before. “It is not the norm to find a body like that.”
Alban’s face was covered in chips, as well as faeces, a hair straightener placed between her legs. A note had been left on her body with the word “cerote” scrawled on it – a Spanish word meaning “piece of s***”.
Novella, who is from a prominent and wealthy family which owns a cement business in South America, pleaded not guilty and instead argued 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.”
But in his June judgment, Judge Vincent Saldanha found that Novella was able to distinguish between right and wrong and convicted him of murder.
Alban’s father, Howdy Kabrins, and stepmother Linda, have attended over 130 days of the trial. Kabrins testified in aggravation of sentence that he had sold all his assets so that he could stay in Cape Town for the duration of the trial.
Kabrins testified that he believed his daughter had not died in vain and asked the Judge to impose the maximum sentence on Novella. “We put faith in you for all women everywhere. We ask for the maximum sentence, not just for Gaby, not just for South Africa, but for all women of the world.”
Alban’s mother, Doris Weitz and stepfather Alexander Williams, have travelled back and forth from the United States to attend the trial. Weitz testified, during the aggravation of sentence, that they had spent US$500 000 to date.
She told the court that the murder of her only child had sentenced her to “life without parole”.
“It was a murder so cruel, I could not hold or comfort 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.”