Mom: 'Movie of what Novella did plays in my mind'
Mother tells court of the 'life sentence' of pain she has been condemned to after Gabi Alban's brutal murder
Where does a mother’s nightmare begin, and where does it end?
In the case of Doris Weitz, it began with a single phone call three years ago that shattered her universe. And it has yet to run its course.
On Tuesday, Weitz slowly made her way to the witness box in the Cape Town High Court, where she led the court through the life of her only daughter, Gabi Alban, and her untimely death in Camps Bay at the hands of her boyfriend, Diego Novella.
In aggravation of sentence, she told Judge Vincent Saldanha: “Diego Novella has given me a life sentence without parole. There will be no recovery from this. He has given Gabi’s father, Howdy, a life sentence without parole. All I can say is, I hope he will not be outside of prison while I am still alive.”
Weitz said the way the Guatemalan butchered her daughter “reflected extraordinary rage”, and that she now has post-traumatic stress disorder, sees a psychiatrist once a week, takes medication and cries herself to sleep nightly.“When I close my eyes, the movie of what he did to her comes into my mind. Sometimes I cannot get out of bed — it is a super effort for me to stay alive. There will never be closure and I will live with this grief every day for the rest of my life.”
She said her daughter’s last words to her were: “Mummy, I love you.” Now, said Weitz, “nobody will ever call me mummy again”.
Earlier, she described her daughter’s life from early childhood and the bicultural family into which she was born.
“My own parents were European refugees who had fled anti-Semitism,” she said. “I was born and raised in Mexico City and moved to the United States in 1974. My entire family still lived in Mexico at that time, and the first time Gabi visited Mexico, she was five months old.”
Her daughter’s life was one of family kinship and a close connection to both America and Mexico, where her cousins were more like siblings.
Although her parents divorced when Alban was three, they have remained a close-knit and blended family that includes both parents’ second spouses.
Multilingual and multicultural as her life was, it was no surprise that she ended up studying international relations — and though her work in public relations took her all over the world, she and her mother remained inseparable.The two “travelled together extensively” both before and after Alban’s marriage to a paediatrician and spoke on the phone at least once a day.
“Gabi was an easy child to raise,” she said. “She was full of life, had a great sense of humour even from when she was little, and had a large circle of friends.”
She spoke about the devastating phone call she received on July 29,2015, when an official from the US consulate phoned and gently told her before breaking the news: “This is going to be the worst day of your life.”
She said she does not remember much from after that, but her husband told her she had been hysterical.
After this came the devastating attempts to get her daughter’s body home. According to Jewish custom, the deceased should be buried within 24 hours of death, but the airline would not allow her body to be transported unless she was embalmed.
Since then, Weitz said she had spent more than R500,000 travelling to and from South Africa to seek justice for her daughter.
“It is not only the murder. It is the way in which she was murdered. It is a tragedy when any parent loses a child but a murder is worse especially when it is so far away and in such a cruel manner,” she said.
“She was butchered. A more normal death would have been different, and I cannot make sense of it.”She said she found it extremely hurtful that Novella had compared her pain to his own mother’s pain when her son [his brother] was killed in a car accident.
Earlier in their relationship, said Weitz, Alban was so intent on having a child that she and Novella had agreed to get married and have a baby while they waited for his green card to come through.
At some point, however, Novella had “broken the deal”.
She said: “The arrogance of Mr Novella was hurtful and infuriating. He says that he loved Gabi but his actions speak louder than his words.”
When Novella’s attorney, William Booth, cross-examined Weitz, she complained that Novella shook his head every time she spoke.
Saldanha also had stern words for Booth because of his habit of interrupting the witness and the judge himself, and of approaching Weitz in an inappropriate way.