DIEHL WARNED SON NOT TO TELL POLICE ABOUT PUNISHING VICTIM

Date: 1987-07-14

Rex Springston
Richmond Times-Dispatch

Under vigorous cross-examination, Michael Diehl testified today that he warned one of his sons not to tell police what was happening to 13-year-old Dominick "Andrew" Diehl about two weeks before Andrew fell into a fatal coma.

At that time, Diehl and his wife, Karen, were shackling Andrew naked to the floor of their school bus home because of Andrew's bad toilet habits.

Robert J. Humphreys, the city's chief deputy commonwealth's attorney, asked Diehl whether it was true he had told his 11-year-old son, Kevin, not to mention the discipline to police. Diehl said it was.

"We were referring to Andrew being on the floor and the fact that to anyone who didn't know Andrew and did not know what we were doing, it would look very bad," Diehl said.

"It would look like child abuse?" Humphreys asked.

"It would look like it, yes," Diehl said.

During the 70-minute cross-examination, Diehl insisted he shackled Andrew and forced him to eat his bodily waste because he was concerned about the child and wanted to improve his behavior.

After Diehl's attorney, Paul E. Sutton II, introduced the 16 Diehl children to the jury, the defense rested today about 11:25 a.m.

Testifying in his own defense yesterday, Diehl said he talked to Andrew as soon as the youth lay unconscious in an effort to persuade him not to die.

"We thought it was a possibility he was willing himself not to come back," Diehl testified in his murder and child-neglect trial here.

Choking back tears, the normally stone-faced Diehl recalled the last words he and his wife uttered to Andrew.

"We said, `Andrew, come back. We love you. You know you're wanted here.' "

The breathing of the youth became irregular, so Diehl tried mouth-to- mouth resuscitation for about 45 minutes, he testified.

Finally, an hour or more after the youth fell unconscious Oct. 24, Diehl sent for help.

"The paramedics came," Diehl said, "and it's all recorded from there."

Recorded was an array of sores, bruises and scars on the body of Andrew, whose body temperature was barely above 68 degrees. The youth died five days later.

Michael and Karen Diehl are being tried simultaneously in separate courtrooms here on charges of murder, abduction, malicious assault and child neglect.

The trials entered their seventh day today.

Yesterday, Diehl, a 42-year-old former naval officer, forest ranger and carpenter, testified in his own defense for about five hours with little interruption.

He said Andrew, the emotionally disturbed son of a Chicago prostitute, came to the Diehl family in 1981 and for years caused problems by stealing and lying, Diehl said.

In 1986, when the family of 19 -- including 13 adopted children and four natural -- was on a cross-country trip in a converted school bus, Andrew's behavior worsened, Diehl said. The youth would urinate and defecate on others' clothes and belongings.

Punishments included giving Andrew up to 150 licks with a wooden paddle and making him do jumping jacks, but nothing worked, Diehl testified.

Diehl said he resorted to tying the youth to his bed, then shackling him naked to the floor of the bus.

Andrew continued to soil himself.

By September, when the family was living at a campground near Sandbridge, Andrew was restrained day and night. He was allowed up to exercise, eat and use the bathroom, Diehl said.

Still, the problems persisted.

In October, in hopes of scaring Andrew into acting normally, Diehl threatened to make Andrew eat his feces, Diehl testified. The bound boy soiled himself, and the punishment was given.

"It just about gagged my wife and I," Diehl testified.

During his testimony, Diehl wrung his hands frequently and chose his words carefully. At one point, he had to stop for several seconds to avoid bursting into tears.

On the morning of Oct. 24, Diehl said, Andrew was walking up and down the bus for exercise after being bound for the night. He fell twice, and on the second fall hit his head on a plastic crayon box, Diehl said.

Thinking Andrew was faking, the couple let him lie for 15 to 30 minutes, Diehl said. Then, Diehl said, Mrs. Diehl looked at Andrew closely. "He didn't open his eyes, and she said, `Hon, I think we may have a problem.' "

That was when Diehl tried, unsuccessfully, to talk the youth out of dying, he testified.

Prosecutors say the youth died of blows to his head. Diehl said he hit the youth in the head only once, with his hand. Mrs. Diehl has admitted hitting Andrew in the head with the stick.

Diehl demonstrated what he said was his paddling technique by landing a series of light, quick blows with the 2-foot paddle on Sutton's rump yesterday.

In Mrs. Diehl's trial, the prosecution rested its case yesterday. Diehl was called as a defense witness but, with the jury out of the courtroom, declined to testify. He cited his Fifth Amendment right not to incriminate himself.

Juries in both trials also toured the Diehls' school bus home yesterday.

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