Making of a monster: Sister reveals Novella's past
Diego Novella’s sister made an impassioned plea for mercy during his sentencing arguments
Diego Novella’s sister told the Cape Town High Court on Tuesday that the man who murdered his girlfriend in Camps Bay in 2015 was not the brother she grew up with.
Lucila Dougherty made an impassioned plea for mercy during arguments about the sentencing of Novella, who was found guilty in June of murdering his 39-year-old American girlfriend Gabriela Kabrins Alban.
Dougherty was the first of her family to receive the news that Novella had been arrested when a police officer called her saying that he was suspected of murdering his girlfriend.
At the time, she said, their whole family was in a state of disbelief. Her father, Jean Paul, who had lost his wife to heart disease in 1999 and his son to a car accident in 1989, found the news “too much” to bear.He died a year later, Dougherty said, “because he had given up”.
Novella grew up in a loving family environment in Guatemala City, and state prosecutor Louise Friester-Sampson suggested it had been a privileged upbringing.
Dougherty agreed, and said Novella was happy until the age of 15, when his brother, Paul, was declared brain dead after a car crash.
She said part of Novella “died” with his brother, and he became lonely and depressed. He also started using drugs including cocaine while he studied in the US, something she found out only when he came home from studying in Los Angeles after their mother’s death in 1999.Dougherty wept as she recounted how Paul had been a “father figure” to Novella and his younger brother.
“I always perceived Diego as a very sensitive person. He didn’t receive any counselling after Paul’s death, and I think he should have,” she said.
After her plea to Judge Vincent Saldanha to treat Novella for the “angel” she still saw him as, and not “take out of context one horrific situation” when considering his sentence, Friester-Sampson asked about her correspondence with Novella leading up to Alban’s murder, and whether he told her what he had done when she visited him in South Africa shortly after the incident.
She said July 28, the day before he killed Alban, was especially difficult for him as it was his late mother’s birthday.“I received a video song from him; I think it was What a Wonderful Life (sic). It was a hard day for him, my mother’s birthday. He told me he wasn’t feeling good about it,” she said.
She flew to South Africa a few weeks after the murder and visited her brother in prison. He told her he could not remember the act of murdering Alban and he felt as though there was “something inside him” and “inside her”.
Dougherty said: “On that fateful morning of July 29 he told me that he woke up and Gabriela wasn’t very kind to him. He saw her standing at the window and she looked like the lady from The Exorcist,” she said.
“Then he said they had sexual intercourse,” she added, before telling Saldanha she was unable to continue.The judge dismissed a protest from Novella’s lawyer, William Booth, about the relevance of the question and asked Dougherty to continue testifying.
“He said that even though Gabi was very sick she enjoyed having sex, that she liked it from behind and that she liked it rough,” she said.
Alban’s father, Howdy Cabrins, sat with his eyes squeezed shut and his fists clenched, an expression of pain on his face.
Dougherty said Novella then told her he placed a curtain railing between Alban’s legs to indicate a penis and that he wrote “Sorote” on her chest to indicate masculinity.
“Sorote” means “piece of shit” in Spanish, Novella’s native tongue, but Dougherty explained that in Guatemalan slang it is also a way of greeting a male friend, akin to the English “mate”.
She said he then told her he next remembered standing in the sea in Camps Bay, receiving messages from a pulsating sun, and believing he had seen David Bowie on the beach.
Friester-Sampson put the other details of the murder to her, such as that Alban was brutally beaten to the point where her eyes were swollen shut and that forceps were needed to pry them open, and also that her brother had defecated on her chest.
Dougherty said that she did not know those details.
* This article has been amended to correct that Paul was not the first-born, and not the driver of the car that crashed.