APPEALS COURT RULES AGAINST MRS. DIEHL
A deadlocked Virginia Court of Appeals has reinstated Karen Diehl's convictions of involuntary manslaughter, abduction, child neglect and assault and battery for which she received a 31-year sentence.
The charges against Mrs. Diehl and her husband, Michael Diehl, both of Idaho, stemmed from the beating death of their 13-year-old adopted son, Dominick J. Diehl, 13. The couple was arrested in 1986 while living in a Virginia Beach campground in a converted school bus with their 17 children.
A three-judge panel of the appeals court set aside Mrs. Diehl's convictions in September, ruling that a prospective juror should have been stricken from the panel because he acknowledged that his opinion had been influenced by pretrial news coverage.
But the 5-5 ruling, announced in a brief order Tuesday, vacates the
panel's ruling and has the effect of reinstating the convictions. There was no accompanying opinion explaining the reasons behind the deadlock.
Diehl is being held at the Augusta Correctional Center. According to the
Department of Corrections, Mrs. Diehl has been free on bond since the reversal of her convictions last year.
Her lawyer, Robert G. Morecock of Virginia Beach, could not be reached for comment yesterday on the effect of the most recent ruling.
But Virginia Beach Commonwealth's Attorney Robert Humphreys said that a hearing for Mrs. Diehl will likely be set within three weeks. Humphreys will argue that she should immediately be returned to the Virginia Correctional Center for Women in Goochland.
"I don't think the judge really has any choice in the matter," Humphreys said.
Diehl was convicted of first-degree murder, abduction, assault and battery and child neglect in a separate trial. His convictions were upheld by the appeals court in October.
The Diehls' son died Oct. 29, 1986, five days after being found beaten in a converted bus where the Diehls lived with their children, 12 of whom were adopted.
The parents testified that Andrew died while they disciplined him.
The abduction charges arose from the boy being shackled.
Camping in a converted school bus, the Diehls supported themselves on fees paid by adoption and welfare agencies for the care of the handicapped children.
At their trials, the Diehls and their children testified to a vicious circle of misbehavior and discipline that ended with Dominick's death.
Andrew, as Dominick Diehl was known, was the abused child of a prostitute. He expressed his inner turmoil in recurrent bouts of bed-wetting, lies and theft, and got the most severe treatment.
Diehl and his wife admitted that they shackled Andrew naked to the floor of the bus for weeks at a time, paddled him until his buttocks blistered and bled, and forced him to eat his feces and drink his urine.
The medical examiner concluded that the boy died from repeated blows to the head. Mrs. Diehl admitted she "bonked" Andrew on the head with a wooden
paddle on several occasions, but she insisted that he sustained the fatal injuries in an accidental fall.