JURORS HEAR VIDEOTAPE OF MRS. DIEHL ADMITTING TO SHACKLING SON
Jurors in the Karen Diehl murder case today heard Mrs. Diehl, via a videotaped statement, admit she shackled her 13-year-old adopted son for days on end and forced him to eat his bodily wastes.
Mrs. Diehl also said she sometimes gave Dominick "Andrew" Diehl up to 30 whacks with a two-foot wooden stick. At times, she said, the engine of the Diehl family's school-bus home would be started to drown out the noise of the discipline.
She said the youth would be shackled naked on a rubber mat on the floor of the bus for up to four days.
"Some days, he was let up to go to the toilet," she said. "Other days, he was not -- he would stay on the floor."
The statement was given to police investigators Oct. 25 -- just hours after Andrew fell unconscious in the bus. He never recovered.
As the tape was played, Mrs. Diehl sat at the defense table behind the monitor with her head in her hands.
The punishments, she said in the tape, were given for Andrew's habit of urinating on others' belongings.
The separate murder trials of the fundamentalist Christian couple today entered their fifth day in Virginia Beach Circuit Court, with the prosecution in both trials nearing completion.
Yesterday's proceedings were highlighted by testimony from five Diehl children (one adopted) in the trial of Mrs. Diehl, 36.
The children also said Mrs. Diehl gave Andrew scores of whacks from the stick. They said she shackled him with a handcuff and a hose clamp to eyebolts on the bus floor. They said she made the disturbed, disruptive youth eat his excrement and drink his urine -- sometimes from a cup, sometimes by licking it off the floor.
And they smiled at their mother and said they loved her.
Mrs. Diehl watched the children with a tearful look of admiration and pain. A wide smile seemed at times on the verge of breaking into a grimace.
The children, for the most part, gave clipped, pat answers that indicated they had told their tales in numerous other statements and proceedings.
Where did Mrs. Diehl hit Andrew with the stick, a prosecutor asked Jeffrey Diehl, 12.
"On the bottom and on the head, sir."
And how many times did she hit him during one session?
"Fifty to 70 times, sir."
Jeffrey's unemotional facade was broken, however, when he brought his hands up to wipe his moistening eyes.
No evidence exists that the Diehls abused any of their other 12 adopted and four natural children. Indeed, several children, taught by the Diehls at home, fared remarkably well in their first ventures in public school.
Brian Diehl, 14, and Jeffrey each earned five A's and a B at year's end, and Nathan Diehl (Jeffrey's twin) made an unspecified number of A's and B's, according to their testimony. The other two boys, ages 11 and 9, were not asked their grades. The four oldest boys are the Diehls' natural children.
Since their parents were arrested, the 16 remaining children -- 12 of them adopted -- have been placed in foster homes.
Defense lawyers admit the Diehls erred in handling Andrew but say they did not kill him. And the children, while saying Mrs. Diehl would strike Andrew in the head, described the hits as soft taps.
Andrew was the emotionally disturbed son of a prostitute, and the children described how he caused problems by repeatedly urinating and defecating on family members' belongings.
The Diehls subjected him to increasingly severe punishments as the child refused again and again to obey, Mrs. Diehl's lawyers say. The couple tried to perform a miracle -- to heal the disturbed youth -- but failed, they say.
The extent of that failure is reflected in medical reports and testimony. The youth had been paddled until his buttocks bled, and slides showed to jurors in Diehl's trial revealed Andrew's backside had open, raw wounds, scars, scabs and dead tissue. The youth had bruises and wounds about his body.He died Oct. 29 -- from a blow to the head, the prosecution maintains -- five days after falling unconscious in the Diehls' bus.
In Diehl's trial yesterday, a medical examiner was asked to demonstrate how hard Andrew had been hit on his head. The doctor, holding the Diehls' stick, said he would damage the witness stand. A book was put on the stand, and the man gave it two vicious blows. The book fell to the floor.
Lawyers for Mrs. Diehl have tried to place doubt in the jurors' minds about the cause of death. In cross examinations, they made vague references to the youth's possibly having suffered from a blood disorder or hypothermia (a chilling of the body that can result in death).
The Diehls face up to life plus 40 years in prison if convicted on charges of murder, abduction, malicious assault and child neglect.
Originally from Idaho, they arrived in Virginia Beach in March 1986, when the family was traveling across the country on the converted bus.