Beach Child-Killer Will Be Released Aug. 5

Date: 1993-07-15


Kerry Dougherty
The Virginian-Pilot

Karen Diehl, the mother of 17 who saw the public's admiration of her turn to shock when she was convicted in her troubled son's death, will be freed from prison Aug. 5.

Diehl, 42, was granted parole Tuesday after serving a little less than six years of a 31-year sentence in the Virginia Correctional Center for Women at Goochland.

This was Diehl's first chance for parole. Her hearing was in April.

``I think she has paid a debt commensurate with the crime,'' said her lawyer, Robert G. Morecock.

Diehl was convicted in September 1987 of involuntary manslaughter, abduction, assault and child neglect.

Andrew Dominick Diehl was 13 when he died on Oct. 29, 1986. He was one of 13 children adopted by Karen and Michael Diehl, a fundamentalist Christian couple from Idaho. They also had four biological children.

The Diehls arrived in Virginia Beach during the spring of 1986, attracting, and apparently enjoying, media attention that focused on the large, unconventional family living in a converted school bus in a campground. They were featured in local newspapers and on television and appeared on CBN's 700 Club.

Most of the Diehl's adopted children were emotionally or physically handicapped, including Andrew, who had been born to an unwed mother and grew up neglected and abused in a Chicago slum.

Several months after the Diehls arrived in Hampton Roads, however, the public got a horrifying glimpse behind the family's facade when Andrew was taken to the hospital. He was brain dead on arrival and pronounced dead three days later.

The autopsy listed the cause of death as ``multiple and forceful blows to the head.'' His parents were charged with murder.

Testimony during Karen and Michael Diehl's separate trials revealed that the boy had been shackled, usually naked, to the floor of the bus for more than a month before his death and had been forced to eat his own feces and drink his own urine as punishment for his antisocial behavior.

Although Karen Diehl admitted hitting her son on the head with a wooden paddle while her husband revved the engine of the bus to drown out the boy's screams, it was Michael Diehl who was convicted of first-degree murder and who received the more severe prison sentence: 41 years.

Michael Diehl will be eligible for parole next July.

After the Diehls were imprisoned, their biological children went to live with relatives while their adopted children were placed in other adoptive homes.

Karen Diehl was freed from prison from September 1989 until May 1990 after an Appeals Court panel overturned her Circuit Court conviction. A decision of the entire Virginia Court of Appeals, however, upheld her conviction, and she was returned to prison.


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