Date: 1986-12-18

John Witt
Richmond Times-Dispatch

In videotaped testimony at a preliminary hearing yesterday, Michael Diehl told how he shackled his 13-year-old adopted son naked to the floor of the family bus, forced him to lie in his own excrement and spanked him repeatedly until his buttocks bled.

"We were not doing this to try and kill him, we were trying to get him to enjoy life," Diehl said. "No parents could do that unless they had God behind them."

But on Oct. 29, after lying in a coma for five days, Dominick "Andrew" Diehl did die.

His adopted parents, Michael and Karen Diehl, were charged with murder, child abuse and abduction. Michael Diehl also faces two counts of malicious assault in connection with the beatings.

The Diehls told detectives that the boy fell and struck his head on a plastic crayon box in the converted school bus he shared with 16 brothers and sisters.

Two doctors who treated him testified yesterday, however, that his massive head injuries could not have been caused by a fall.

"He suffered head trauma as the result of several blows to the head," pediatrician John A. Thomas said.

The Diehls told police they allowed their son to lie unconscious on the floor for 15 minutes because they thought he was playing a trick, police testified. When they realized he was badly hurt, the fundamentalist Christian parents prayed for his recovery for another 45 minutes before calling the rescue squad.

"If he had his way, he would just will himself to die," Michael Diehl said in a taped statement played in court. "We felt like we could reach him and call him back to us."

Five of Andrew's brothers have been subpoenaed to testify this morning as the preliminary hearing enters its second day in Virginia Beach Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court.

The children, who have been placed in foster homes, were seated behind their parents as court opened yesterday. Reunited for the first time since Andrew's death, they exchanged hugs and whispered words of affection.

"I love you, baby," Mrs. Diehl said as she clasped one of the youngsters to her bosom.

The saga of the Diehl family, as pieced together from the testimony of the seven witnesses who took the stand yesterday, is a strange one.

Michael Diehl, 41, is a Navy veteran who worked as a carpenter and forester in Idaho before retiring to become a full-time father.

He supported his four natural children and 13 adopted ones, many of them emotionally and physically handicapped, on $2,100 per month in welfare allotments.

The family lived in a 35-by-7-foot bus, and traveled for the past two years. In March, they arrived in Virginia Beach to visit the Christian Broadcasting Network Inc. and wound up as featured guests on the Rev. Pat Robertson's television show, "The 700 Club."

The Diehls parked their bus at a campground in the Sandbridge area south of the resort strip, where they said Andrew's behavior began to grow steadily worse.

Andrew was the son of a Chicago prostitute who beat and neglected him until he was placed in a psychiatric hospital at age 5, Michael Diehl said. The boy was tossed out of at least six foster homes because of his bizarre outbursts.

The Diehls said they agreed to adopt the boy seven years ago at the request of an exasperated social worker who had expelled him from her own home. They gave him a new name, Andrew, because he did not like to be called Dominick.

"God sent us Andrew to raise, and that's why we never sent him back, because we believed," Michael Diehl told police.

The boy immediately began to lie and steal food and money from his new family, Michael Diehl said. They had to place a burglar alarm in the kitchen and kept him under guard on the bus.

When he could no longer steal, Andrew acted out his frustrations by urinating on the beds of his brothers and sisters, Diehl said.

For the last two months of his life, Andrew was tied to his bed or to the floor of the bus to allow the family to sleep undisturbed, Diehl said. A handcuff on one hand and a radiator hose clamp on the other, his feet tied with clothesline, the boy would struggle until his wrists and ankles were scraped and swollen.

If he fouled himself or refused to eat, Diehl said, the boy was spanked with an inch-thick wooden rod. Iodine was used to prevent infection on the sores that were constantly being reopened on his buttocks.

Diehl said the boy was lovingly corrected, not beaten.

"A beating is intended to hurt the child's heart as well as his body, a spanking is designed to help his heart," Diehl explained. He said Andrew willingly submitted to the discipline and seemed uncomfortable when he was given too much freedom.

"He wanted us to totally control his life, in spite of the anger he had built up inside himself," Diehl said.

On Oct. 24, after his parents said he fell and struck his head, Andrew Diehl stopped breathing. His father administered mouth-to-mouth resuscitation while his mother ran to call the rescue squad.

When rescue workers arrived, they could detect no pulse. He was revived with electric shocks and several shots of adrenalin and rushed to Virginia Beach General Hospital.

Dr. James B. Dillon, a neurosurgeon, testified that Andrew was declared brain dead as the result of a blood clot that formed at his right temple.

Dr. Dillon said it would take repeated blows from a blunt instrument to inflict brain damage that severe, and the fatal blows could have been struck from 12 hours to four days before the child arrived at the hospital.

Diehl said on the tape that he had never struck his son in the head with a paddle, although, "I think I used my hand one time and cuffed him on the side of the head out of frustration."


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