Date: 1987-09-15

Rex Springston
Richmond Times-Dispatch

Saying "maybe one day she'll understand what she did," a judge today sentenced Karen Diehl to 31 years in prison in the beating death and abuse of her 13-year-old adopted son, Dominick "Andrew" Diehl.

In imposing sentence, Virginia Beach Circuit Judge Alan Rosenblatt affirmed the penalty recommended July 17 by the jury that convicted Mrs. Diehl.

Just a moment after Mrs. Diehl said she still doesn't know how Andrew died, Rosenblatt said, "The overwhelming evidence was that Andrew Diehl was beaten to death."

Before she was sentenced, Mrs. Diehl testified: "I accept what the law has said. I feel that Michael (her husband) and I tried to do our best, and we erred in loving too much and not recognizing the symptoms of mental illness."

"I still don't know how my son died," said Mrs. Diehl, her voice trembling. "I'm sorry, and I miss my son."

Today's proceedings brought to a close -- at least in this court -- the second of two sensational murder trials, made more newsworthy because they were covered with cameras in the courtrooms as part of a state experiment.

Appeals in the two cases are expected to last months.

A nine-man, three-woman jury convicted the 36-year-old Mrs. Diehl July 17 on counts of involuntary manslaughter, abduction, child neglect and assault.

Mrs. Diehl's husband, Michael, 42, was convicted July 15 of first-degree murder, abduction, child neglect and assault. He was sentenced Sept. 1 to 41 years in prison.

Evidence showed that the Diehls, both fundamentalist Christians, beat Andrew up to 200 times at a session with a wooden stick, shackled him to the floor of the family's school-bus home and forced him to eat his body wastes.

The Diehls said they administered the discipline out of love in an effort to curb Andrew -- the emotionally disburbed son of a Chicago prostitute -- of habits that included stealing and urinating on others' belongings.

Andrew died Oct. 29, five days after falling unconscious on the school bus floor. Medical examiners said he died from head injuries.

Mrs. Diehl, a matronly woman with graying hair and a slight double chin, admitted hitting the youth on the head with the stick but insisted she only gave him a slight tap.

After Mrs. Diehl's trial, defense lawyers proclaimed victory. They said their main goal had been to avoid a murder conviction.

Mrs. Diehl had been free on bond awaiting sentencing.

She was sentenced to 10 years each on the manslaughter, neglect and abduction convictions and to one year for the assault, a misdemeanor that had been reduced from malicious wounding.

The Diehls, of Post Falls, Idaho, had been taking their 13 adopted and four natural children on an extended cross-country trip when they arrived in this coastal city in March 1986.

Michael -- a former Navy officer and carpenter -- his wife and large family were the subjects of several complimentary news stories during their sojourn.

The Diehls had no previous criminal record, and several friends -- from Virginia and as far away as Idaho -- testified to their good character.

The family was living in the bus at a Sandbridge campground when Andrew died.


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