Novella murder trial halted as psychiatrist is called in

12 June 2018 - 11:54 By Nora Shelly
Diego Novella in court. File photo.
Diego Novella in court. File photo.
Image: Gallo Images / Brenton Geach

Closing arguments in the Diego Novella murder trial were postponed in the High Court in Cape Town on Tuesday so he can be examined by a psychiatrist. 

Novella brought his attorney’s closing arguments to a halt before they could even begin on Monday when he stood up and told the Judge Vincent Saldanha: “I lied when I gave my testimony.”

The admission shocked everyone‚ including Novella’s lawyer‚ William Booth‚ who said on Tuesday it was “completely and utterly out of the blue”.

Novella was later evaluated by the district surgeon‚ who found he had suffered a panic attack. His medication was altered and he was placed on suicide watch in Pollsmoor Prison and transferred from a single unit to a two-person cell. 

Booth said on Tuesday that Novella’s mental state had not improved from the morning before. 

“I’m not in a position to deal fully and completely with what he said in court yesterday‚” Booth said. “I need to know that what I’m being told is in fact what the position is … that I’m not being told things because of an emotional state or panic attack or suicide state.”

Novella‚ who is from a wealthy Guatemalan family‚ sat staring straight ahead in court on Tuesday wearing a hoodie and a leather jacket as Booth requested another delay in the proceedings to allow his client to see a psychiatrist.

Booth said he would need the rest of the week for Novella to get proper medication to be able to give him clear instructions.

Novella is accused of killing Gabriela Alban‚ then 39‚ at the Camps Bay Retreat Hotel in July 2015. His defence has argued that he was under the influence of several drugs. The drugs caused him to have “psychotic-like” delusions that Alban was a demon he had to defend himself against‚ Booth has argued. 

In closing arguments last week‚ state prosecutor Mornay Julius claimed Novella and Booth were exaggerating the effects of the drugs‚ and that Novella was actually angry at Alban because she had insulted him on the day she died. 

Judge Saldanha thanked Alban’s family‚ who have been a constant presence during the trial‚ for their patience. Howdy Kabrins‚ Alban’s father‚ said on Monday the wrinkle in the proceedings was “beyond frustrating”.

“One way or another we will proceed next] Monday with whatever your instruction is‚” Saldanha said to Booth. “Nothing is unforeseen at this point.”