Guatemalan national Diego Dougherty Novella has been sentenced to 20 years behind bars for the July 2015 murder of his American marketing executive girlfriend, Gabriela Kabrins Alban, 39.
Judge Vincent Saldanha on Thursday said the “deliberate desecration” of Alban’s body had been an aggravating factor, one of several that compelled him to sentence Novella to more than the prescribed minimum sentence of 15 years.
On July 29, 2015, Alban’s body was discovered in the hotel room she was sharing with Novella at the luxury boutique hotel Camps Bay Retreat. She had been strangled and suffered blunt force trauma.
Alban’s face was covered in chips and sweets, faeces had been smeared on her body, and 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 that 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,” he claimed.
In sentencing Novella, Judge Saldanha said the effects of the intoxication had been “exaggerated” and that it had “fuelled his anger” but not been the cause of the brutal attack on Alban. It was, therefore, an aggravating factor.
Novella “lived off a generous family inheritance”, had never held down a job for a significant period of time, and travelled extensively.
His search for spiritual enlightenment had brought him to South Africa to attend a retreat in Magaliesberg where ibogaine, a naturally occurring psychoactive substance found in plants, was administered.
He had persuaded Alban to join him in South Africa, as he believed the spiritual retreat would help improve her health – she suffered from Lymes disease and her condition had deteriorated significantly rendering her financially dependent on Novella and her mother.
“Ibogaine was no more than an elusive cure for Lymes disease,” Judge Saldanha said on Thursday.
In the testimony of Alban’s stepfather, retired judge Alexander Williams, it was said Novella had displayed blatant arrogance, particularly in his assertion that Alban had been at peace with him.
Judge Saldanha said his “half-hearted expression of remorse” had added insult to injury. Furthermore, he had said Alban’s death had been “a mistake on both sides” and that he had not done it consciously.
Alban’s mother, when she testified in aggravation of sentence, had told the court that she had lost the will to live and had described the death of her only child as a “life sentence without the possibility of parole”.
Their grief had been compounded by the media in America peddling false information.
The judge also highlighted the testimony of Alban’s father, Howdy Kabrins, and said “of particular poignancy” was the moment he had shed tears for the pain Novella’s family had experienced on hearing of his arrest.
“The family was the voice of the deceased”.
The Judge said Novella did not express “an unequivocal apology to the family”.
He said Novella would be deported back to Guatemala upon his release, therefore “parole would be ineffective”. He also said correctional services and the parole board would need to consult Alban’s family before his release.
Alban’s family wept as Novella was sentenced. Her mother Doris Weitz said she had hoped Novella would get a life sentence without parole.
The family has instituted civil proceedings against Novella in America.