RELATIVES OF DIEHLS WANT CUSTODY OF COUPLE'S CHILDREN

Date: 1987-07-20

Richmond Times-Dispatch

The 16 surviving children of Karen and Michael Diehl will remain in foster homes until their parents have exhausted their appeals of convictions.

The Post Falls, Idaho, couple was convicted last week in separate trials in connection with the October beating death of their 13-year-old adopted son. Diehl was found guilty of first-degree murder, abduction and felony child neglect, and the jury recommended a 41-year sentence. Mrs. Diehl was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter, abduction and felony child neglect, and the jury recommended she spend 31 years in prison.

The fundamentalist Christian couple left Idaho in 1984 in a converted school bus that was home to their 17 children, 13 of them adopted. Now the surviving children are in foster homes scattered throughout Virginia Beach.

"We have never had to deal with a sibling group this size," said Walter Credle, assistant director of the city's Social Services Department. "It is a very unusual and difficult situation."

Since Oct. 24, when paramedics were called to a Virginia Beach campground and found Dominick "Andrew" Diehl unconscious, the children have been spread among 11 foster homes. Some of the younger ones live with a brother or sister.During the 8 1/2 months, they have seen their parents twice. Both visits were supervised by social services workers. The foster parents have brought the 16 children together for several family outings.

With the parents facing lengthy prison terms, relatives of the children say they plan to seek custody.

"Even if I have to take all of them," said Mrs. Diehl's sister-in-law, Nancy Schwein, "we are going to fight to get the children."

"Absolutely," said her husband, Rich Schwein, Mrs. Diehl's brother. The Schweins, who are in their 30s, traveled from their home in Minnesota to be with the Diehls during the trial.

Many of the children are physically and emotionally handicapped and come from different states and countries and from hospitals, orphanages and broken homes. They range in age from 2 to 17.

Four were born to the Diehls: Brian, 14, twins Jeffrey and Nathan, 12, and Daniel, 9. The other 12 were adopted after they had been rejected by other families.

Andrew, a veteran of four foster homes, two psychiatric institutions and a disrupted adoption, also was adopted.

Defense attorneys have said they plan to appeal the convictions and expect the custody battle to remain dormant until the cases are resolved. And even if the Diehls go to prison, they could regain custody of the children when they get out.

"Severing parental rights is something that is only done in extreme situations as a last resort," Credle said. "It is premature to even talk about it in the Diehl case."

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