Murder-accused Novella ‘played air guitar, danced, stared at Camps Bay hotel staff’

Cape Town – Playing air guitar, dancing and pacing around, staring at hotel staff and sleeping on the floor at reception – these were the actions of a Guatemalan guest that a Camps Bay hotel barman described to the Western Cape High Court on Monday.

Night barman Jean Nyabenda, a state witness, said Diego Novella had exhibited this bizarre behaviour in the early hours of July 29, 2015.

Just hours later, staff at the luxurious Camps Bay Retreat Hotel were to discover the slain body of his roommate, US marketing executive Gabriela Kabrins Alban, in their suite. Novella has pleaded not guilty to killing her.

The barman recalled asking Novella around 01:00 if he wanted his usual whisky. He replied that he wanted a Virgin Mary (tomato cocktail).

He went outside with his drink. Nyabenda said the strange behaviour started half an hour later.

“I was seated at reception and the accused was staring at me. I would say it lasted about 15 minutes,” he said, noting that they were about a metre apart at the time.

“I didn’t speak to him but I was asking myself why is he staring at me like this. I was thinking maybe there is something wrong with this guy.”

He remembered being astonished but did not think the behaviour was “so scary that he would do harm”.

The court heard that Novella danced the “whole night” in the reception area and slept on the floor.

The barman demonstrated on the stand how the accused had played air guitar and made percussion sounds with his mouth. At one point, he had to stop him from disturbing sleeping guests upstairs.

When a staff member asked if he wanted to sleep, Novella apparently replied to the effect of, “What is it to sleep? To me sleep is nothing.”

Nyabenda told defence lawyer William Booth that he found it peculiar that a guest had paid for a room and instead chose to sleep on the floor in a public area.

“I would say yes, you are correct to have thought that there is something wrong with this man,” said Booth.

The trial continues.

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