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In The News South Africa

Fingerprint expert takes stand in case against Guatemalan murder accused

CAPE TOWN, August 29  – A fingerprint expert has testified that the fingerprints of Guatemalan murder accused Diego Novella were found on a note left on the body of his American marketing executive girlfriend.
Novella was arrested on July 29, 2015, after the body of Gabriela Kabrins Alban was discovered by hotel staff in the room they were sharing at the luxury boutique hotel, the Camps Bay Retreat.
He has pleaded not guilty. In his plea statement, Novella, who is from a prominent and wealthy family in Guatemala, claimed 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.”
His defence will argue diminished responsibility due to drug intoxication.
On Tuesday, Warrant Officer William Rushton told the Western Cape High Court that one of two ipads found in the room had a shattered screen. Two heelprints from Novella’s right foot had been found on it. “It was stood on twice with the same foot.”
During cross examination by defence lawyer William Booth, Rushton also told the court that the crime scene was unusual. “It was unusual to find faeces on the deceased, and sweets and chips everywhere. What distinguishes this from other crime scenes was what was found on the deceased’s body.”
Chips, as well as faeces, were left on Alban’s face. A note was left on her chest with the word “cerote” scrawled across it in red lipliner. The word is a Spanish term meaning piece of s***.
On Monday, Rushton told the court that Novella’s fingerprints had been found on the note. They had also been found on a chip packet, a wellness pamphlet and a Woolworths plastic bag.
Warrant Officer Stephen Fourie also testified on Monday that the crime scene was unlike anything he had ever seen before. “It is not the norm to find a body like that.”
Chips and sweet packets were also strewn around the room.
The 39-year-old Alban, who had been diagnosed with Lyme disease, had arrived in South Africa to join Novella who had arranged treatment for her. He had attended a seven-day cleansing programme at a Magaliesberg spiritual retreat several weeks before the murder.
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.

The case against Guatemalan murder-accused Diego Novella is expected to continue in the Western Cape High Court on Tuesday.
Novella has been charged with the murder of his America marketing executive girlfriend Gabriela Kabrins in the Camps Bay Retreat Hotel where they were staying in 2015.
On Monday, the court heard that blood and urine samples, nail scrapings and hair samples were not collected from Novella when he was arrested on July 29, 2015.
Defence lawyer, William Booth, cross-examined Warrant Officer Stephen Fourie who told the court he had sent Novella to a district surgeon to have the samples collected, but it was never done.
He said the district surgeon had told him that he only took such samples in rape cases. Despite sending the accused back to the district surgeon the following day, the samples were not taken.
The blood and urine samples would have established if Novella had taken any illegal substances, and the fact that the tests were not carried out could prejudice his case.
Novella has pleaded not guilty to the 2015 murder of his 39-year-old girlfriend and instead will argue 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.
He was arrested after Alban’s body was discovered in the hotel room by hotel staff in the afternoon. Novella was not there, but was arrested later that day.
He was sent for psychiatric evaluation at Valkenberg Hospital where a panel found he had diminished responsibility from drug intoxication. He was, however, found to have criminal capacity and was deemed fit to stand trial.

Blood and urine samples, nail scrapings and hair samples were not collected from Guatemalan murder accused Diego Novella when he was arrested on July 29, 2015, the Western Cape High Court was told on Monday.
Defence lawyer, William Booth, cross-examined Warrant Officer Stephen Fourie who told the court he had sent Novella to a district surgeon to have the samples collected, but it was never done.
He said the district surgeon had told him that he only took such samples in rape cases. Despite sending the accused back to the district surgeon the following day, the samples were not taken.
Fourie told the court he was very angry that it had not been done, as he realised it would have formed critical evidence in the case.
Judge Vincent Saldanha was clearly not impressed, and incredulously asked Fourie why he had allowed the doctor to make the decision not to do the tests: “It is not for him to decide. You wanted blood samples and DNA, why didn’t you insist?”.
The blood and urine samples would have established if Novella had taken any illegal substances, and the fact that the tests were not carried out could prejudice his case.
Saldanha also seemed shocked that a private security company secured the crime scene with its own tape, because the police “had none readily available”.
Fourie, a police officer with thirty years experience, was testifying in the trial against Guatemalan murder accused Diego Novella.
Novella has pleaded not guilty to the 2015 murder of his 39-year-old American marketing executive girlfriend and instead will argue 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.”
Novella was arrested on July 29, 2015, after Alban’s body was discovered in the hotel room they were sharing at the luxurious Camps Bay Retreat Boutique Hotel.
Her body was found by hotel staff in the afternoon. Novella was not there, but was arrested later that day. He was sent for psychiatric evaluation at Valkenberg Hospital where a panel found he had diminished responsibility from drug intoxication.
He was, however, found to have criminal capacity and was deemed fit to stand trial.
The trial resumed on Monday after a two-week adjournment because defence lawyer William Booth had a medical emergency.
Fourie, the head of detectives at the Camps Bay police station, earlier told the court that he interviewed Novella on July 29, as well as the following day – both times he informed him of his rights.
Booth said another officer had also interviewed him and again read him his rights. “Maybe it was that the accused’s demeanour was strange, and he was acting strangely and that is why he was read his rights several times.”
State prosecutor Mornay Julius objected, calling the assertion “speculation”.
Booth told the court that his client claimed he was interrogated in a metal container and was threatened with a phone wire.
Fourie said he had no knowledge of the threat, but conceded interviews were sometimes conducted in a metal container.
It was widely reported that cocaine had been found in the room, but Booth told the court that, in fact, none had been found.
Booth described the crime scene and the body – “how she was covered” – as “bizarre”.
Fourie agreed and said 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 curling iron beside her. A note had been left on her body with the word “cerote” scrawled on it – a Spanish term meaning “piece of s***”.
Alban’s father and stepmother, Howdy and Linda Kabrins, have returned to Cape Town from America after the mid year recess. Kabrins has vowed to be at the trial so that he can see that justice is done for his daughter. But, he said the postponements had been frustrating: “It’s been a lesson in patience.”
Alban’s mother Doris Weitz has been unable to return to South Africa after undergoing surgery for a broken ankle.

A police officer who interviewed Guatemalan murder accused Diego Novella on the day of his arrest, told the Western Cape High Court on Monday that in 30 years of service he had never seen a crime scene like the one in Room 14 of a Camps Bay boutique hotel where Gabriela Kabrins Alban was found dead.
Novella has pleaded not guilty to the 2015 murder of his 39-year-old American marketing executive girlfriend and instead will argue 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.”
Novella was arrested on July 29, 2015, after Alban’s body was discovered in the hotel room they were sharing at the luxurious Camps Bay Retreat Boutique Hotel.
Her body was found by hotel staff in the afternoon. Novella was not there, but was arrested later that day. He was sent for psychiatric evaluation at Valkenberg Hospital where a panel found he had diminished responsibility from drug intoxication.
He was, however, found to have criminal capacity and was deemed fit to stand trial.
The trial resumed on Monday after a two-week adjournment because defence lawyer William Booth had had a medical emergency.
Warrant Officer Stephen Fourie, the head of detectives at the Camps Bay police station, told the court that he interviewed Novella on July 29, as well as the following day – both times he informed him of his rights.
Defence lawyer William Booth said another officer had also interviewed him and again read him his rights. “Maybe it was that the accused’s demeanour was strange, and he was acting strangely and that is why he was read his rights several times.”
State prosecutor Mornay Julius objected, calling the assertion “speculation”.
Booth told the court that his client claimed he was interrogated in a metal container and was threatened with a phone wire.
Fourie said he had no knowledge of the threat, but conceded interviews were sometimes conducted in a metal container.
It was widely reported that cocaine had been found in the room, but Booth told the court that, in fact, none had been found.
Booth described the crime scene and the body “how she was covered” as “bizarre”.
Fourie agreed and said 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 curling iron beside her. A note had been left on her body with the word “cerote” scrawled on it – a Spanish word meaning “piece of s***”.
Alban’s father and stepmother, Howdy and Linda Kabrins, have returned to Cape Town from America after the mid year recess. Kabrins has vowed to be at the trial so that he can see that justice is done for his daughter. But, he said the postponements had been frustrating: “Its been a lesson in patience.”
Alban’s mother Doris Weitz has been unable to return to South Africa after undergoing surgery for a broken ankle.

ANA

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