Date: 1987-07-10

John Witt
Richmond Times-Dispatch

From the mouths of her children came the most damaging testimony yet in the murder trial of Karen Diehl.

Jurors leaned forward in their seats yesterday to catch every word as five sons told how she hit 13-year-old Dominick Diehl, called Andrew, on the head with a stick a few days before he died of brain injuries.

There were gasps in the packed courtroom as one of the boys described how Mrs. Diehl forced her troublesome adopted son to lick his urine from the floor of the bus where he was kept shackled night and day.

In the courtroom next door, where her husband, Michael, is also on trial, one juror wiped tears from her eyes as the prosecutor described the bruises, cuts, scars and blisters that covered Andrew from head to foot at the time of his death Oct. 29.

When asked to demonstrate, Dr. Gregory Wanger took the paddle used by the Diehls to correct their 17 children, a board 2 inches thick and more than 2 feet long, and slammed it down horizontally on a lawbook with a crack that echoed throughout the courtroom.

But most of the children who testified in Mrs. Diehl's trial held the stick vertically and brought the narrow end down in a gentle tapping motion.

Nathan Diehl, 12, said his mother hit his troublesome adopted brother "just hard enough to irritate him, not hard at all."

Kevin Diehl, 11, who like Andrew was adopted, disagreed.

"It was pretty hard . . . it wasn't irritating to me," he said of the blows to Andrew's head.

The abused son of a prostitute, renamed Andrew by the Diehls when they adopted him in 1981, was described by his brothers as a Jekyll and Hyde character who seldom spoke and loved Western novels.

"When he was being good, he was nice, considerate and thoughtful," said Brian Diehl, 14. When he was bad, "he would steal things, lie, cheat us, take our stuff and pee on our stuff."

The other children said Andrew refused to eat and sometimes tried to hit himself in the head with the paddle until Mrs. Diehl intervened.

Brian said he believed that Andrew was testing the limits of his parents' love and patience.

"One of his reasons was he wanted to make Mom and Dad prove they wouldn't send him away to another institution or foster home" like the five that had rejected him previously, Brian said.

Mrs. Diehl beamed with pride as her sons told the jury about the good grades they have gotten since they stopped taking classes from their father on the bus and began going to public school. At other times, she appeared heartbroken as they spoke of the punishment heaped on Andrew by their mother and father.

The five children who testified yesterday all said they loved their parents and missed them very much since they were taken to foster homes after Andrew's death.

It was constant bed-wetting that prompted the parents to take stern disciplinary measures, the boys said. Once Andrew defecated on the bed of his 7-year-old sister, who is confined to a wheelchair by cerebral palsy, they said.

"He made the back of the bus stink," Nathan said.

One day, Nathan said, his father asked to borrow his toy handcuffs to strap Andrew down. He said Diehl installed eye bolts on the floor of the bus to hold the cuffs and ropes tied to Andrew's feet. When the boy's struggles broke one of the cuffs, Diehl substituted a radiator hose clamp.

A determined Andrew still managed to free himself occasionally, although with some difficulty.

"He would pull on the rope until it stretched far enough to get his feet out, and then he would unscrew the pipe clamp with his teeth," Brian recalled.

The escapes were short-lived, and the boys said Andrew was allowed off the converted school bus where the 19-member family lived only twice during the last two months of his life, to wash out the bedclothes he had fouled during the night.

If Andrew wet himself, Kevin testified, Mrs. Diehl would make him kneel and "lick it off the floor."

If Andrew defecated, said Jeffrey Diehl, Nathan's twin, "she'd tell him to eat it, and if he didn't she'd spank him." On at least five occasions, Jeffrey said, Andrew chose to eat it.

Eventually, the children said, the Diehls began shackling Andrew naked on a rubber mat stretched across the metal floor of the bus. They frequently beat his buttocks until they bled and covered his screams by racing the engine of the bus.

The other boys said they were spanked occasionally, but the worst treatment was always reserved for Andrew because he was stubborn.

On the day the ambulance was called to take his comatose brother to the hospital, Jeffrey said his mother told the children that "Andrew was going back to his bed and had fallen and hadn't gotten up."

She walked the aisles of the bus, praying in tongues for Andrew's recovery, for some time before calling the rescue squad, the boys said.

Paramedic Carolyn Engle, the first witness to take the stand as testimony began in Michael Diehl's trial yesterday, said Andrew had no pulse and was not breathing when she arrived. His heart was restarted with shots of adrenaline and electric shocks, but he never regained consciousness.

Dr. James Dillon, who met him at the emergency room, said Andrew was one of the most badly battered children he had ever seen, with head injuries similar to those seen in victims of a car crash.

When Andrew was pronounced dead four days later, an autopsy was ordered. Using a model skull and plastic brain to illustrate, Dr. Wanger said he found a one-ounce blood clot on the right side of the brain, a half-ounce clot on the left side, and seven separate bruises to the brain tissue in various locations.

There were outward scars as well, Dr. Wanger said, pointing out the injuries with the aid of graphic photographs enlarged with an overhead projector. The pictures of Andrew's wounds were so disturbing that several jurors looked away after a few seconds.

There were circular scars that may have been cigarette burns on the boy's chest, Dr. Wanger said. His wrists and ankles were blistered and swollen from the shackles. His lips and knees were scraped. Old scars covered his hips, back and thighs.

Worst of all were the buttocks, targets of frequent beatings by both parents. Dr. Wanger said they were covered with "scabbed-over areas . . . blood-filled blisters and sloughed-off skin."

The Diehls are each charged with murder, malicious wounding, child neglect and abduction. Mrs. Diehl is being tried by a jury of nine men and three women, while Diehl is being tried by a jury of eight women and four men. Both trials are scheduled to last at least two weeks.

Today, the prosecution intends to play the videotaped statements the fundamentalist couple gave police, in which they said God wanted them to show their love for Andrew through stern discipline.

Both are scheduled to take the stand in their own defense next week.

Defense attorneys concede that the Diehls beat Andrew and kept him a prisoner on the bus for months without seeking medical attention or psychiatric care. But the lawyers said that they were caring parents with the best of intentions.

Placing his hands on Diehl's shoulders and turning him to the jury during his opening statement yesterday, attorney Paul Sutton said, "This is my defense -- Michael Diehl. I want you to get to know him. I want you to get to understand him."


Decorated his grave

My friend told me of how this young adopted child who was killed by these monster-adopted parents. How horrible! This was a very troubled child that needed parents that knew how to deal with his delicate mind. My friend and I have decorated this child's grave with cars and other toys. He is buried in the cementary across from the Princess Anne park in Virginia Beach. I just recently put more cars on his headstone which states, "Your life was not lived in vain, my son." But this child's life was lived in vain because no one wanted this poor delicate child. The parents that beat him to death lived for the check that they received from him being a state orphan. How sad for this child! I have prayed that these parents never, never have a peace of mind no matter wether they jail-where the so-called father-monster still resides, and the mother is free...may they live in a tormented state for what they have done to this child. His birthday - July. These horrible monsters that did this to the child will pay for all that they did to him.
Singing - I braved the graveyard rain to place a rose upon your name, may you rest in peace Lord's child and play upon heaven's clouds.

Much appreciated

Thank you for doing what you did for Dominick Diehl and for sharing this story with us. Over the years we have collected many cases, but this was one I had a hard time woring on. Such a horrible and sad story and such an utter waste of life.

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