'Black sheep' Novella has anti-social traits but poses low risk with intervention, court hears

While convicted killer Diego Novella has anti-social traits and a substance use disorder, he poses a low re-offending risk if these are addressed, the Western Cape High Court heard on Monday.

This was the opinion of Dr Giada Del Fabbro, a clinical psychologist who was asked by the defence to compile a pre-sentencing report.

She testified on Monday in mitigation of Novella's sentence and told the court that therapeutic interventions in prison and support from Novella's family would lower Novella's risk of re-offending.

Novella, from Guatemala, was convicted in June of murdering his US girlfriend, Gabriela Kabrins Alban, at a Camps Bay hotel on July 29, 2015.

Del Fabbro said the convicted murderer came across as intelligent when she interviewed him and that he was warm, charming and co-operative throughout.

He did not display any signs or symptoms associated with mental disorders.

She said he seemed to have taken on the role of the "black sheep" of the family.

Judge Vincent Saldanha said this was a "colloquially inappropriate term" and she changed her description to a "lost sheep" or someone who felt they did not belong.

"It would have affected his self-esteem. He would have felt quite inadequate and lacked confidence to achieve things in life," she said.

Novella, the fifth oldest of seven children, reported having a distant relationship with his parents and receiving negative attention for his academic struggles. This attention shifted to his abuse of cocaine, LSD, ecstasy and cannabis when he was older.

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He appeared to idolise his older brother, who died in a car accident when Novella was in his teens. He struggled with the death of his mother that followed.

While he had previous brushes with the law, he did not have a history of violent or aggressive behaviour.

Del Fabbro identified several anti-social personality traits, including impulsivity, lack of taking responsibility and manipulativeness.

"While I would not necessarily say that he meets all the diagnostic criteria, he has many traits of that personality disorder," she said.

"He meets the criteria for substance use disorder although he himself does not believe he has a problem."

The court heard that consuming cannabis and other drugs reduced inhibition and could affect decision making by prioritising immediate gratification of desires or urges.

"It is my opinion that Mr Novella may have been less inclined to act if he had not been under the disinhibiting effect of drugs," she said.

She said it was regrettable that a drug test was not conducted after Novella's arrest.

From interviews, she got the impression that the relationship between the couple had been volatile and was characterised by regular conflict.

"It was my impression that the two would bring out the worst in one another and engage in a lot of arguments."

She said Novella had expressed regret about his choices and remorse for his actions, indicating he would have done things differently.

"What he did mention was that he wouldn't have come to South Africa with Ms Kabrins in the first place and would have chosen to leave the Camps Bay hotel to avoid the situation which led to the murder," she said.

"Novella was called a faggot by the deceased. He left the hotel room temporarily but then returned."

Defence lawyer William Booth asked Del Fabbro for her impressions of the crime scene and autopsy reports.

She said the degree of violence imposed was excessive. There were elements of humiliation and the crime was indicative of a large amount of anger and rage.

The act appeared to be impulsive and poorly thought through, indicating Novella was not a "cold-blooded killer".

Novella regularly attended psychotherapy sessions in Pollsmoor Prison.

Del Fabbro said therapeutic intervention after sentencing should address his underlying rage and impulsivity, coping skills, emotion regulation without substances, and insight into his personality and patterns.

"It would also need to address the murder in question and the factors that played out in that regard."

She felt he needed a specialist to address his substance use. He would also have to attend narcotics anonymous groups, abstain from all substances and be regularly tested.

"It is important for Mr Novella to have access and contact with his family so that support would be available to him."

The State is expected to start cross-examination of Del Fabbro on Wednesday.