MRS. DIEHL'S JURY PONDERS 3 HOURS, TO RETURN TODAY

Date: 1987-07-17

John Witt
Richmond Times-Dispatch

Prosecutors say Karen and Michael Diehl were determined to make their adopted son behave, even if it killed him.

"No parent . . . has a right to treat a child like an animal," Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Ken Phillips said yesterday in closing arguments in Mrs. Diehl's murder trial.

To stop the emotionally disturbed 13-year-old from bedwetting, the fundamentalist couple shackled him naked to the floor, beat his buttocks bloody and fed him urine and feces.

Mrs. Diehl's attorneys argued that the boy's behavior was indeed animalistic, and that he eventually dragged his loving parents down to his level.

"You can't just consider the terrible things she did, you have to consider the good intentions," Tom Shuttleworth told the jury.

He conceded that there might be enough evidence to convict his client of abduction, child neglect and assault -- but not murder.

The defense contends that Dominick Diehl, who was called Andrew, died Oct. 29 as the result of an accidental fall.

The prosecution claims he suffered fatal brain damage when Mrs. Diehl hit him in the head with a wooden paddle.

A jury of nine men and three women deliberated for less than three hours yesterday afternoon before adjourning until 9 a.m. today.

Michael Diehl was convicted Wednesday of first degree murder, abduction, child neglect and assault. A jury of eight women and four men recommended a 41-year sentence.

The verdict was front-page news across the state, and defense attorneys in Mrs. Diehl's trial expressed concern that her jury might be tainted by the outcome of her husband's case.

When queried by the judge, one juror admitted, out of the presence of the rest of the jury, that he had walked past a newspaper box and seen the headline "Diehl father guilty of murder."

He said he did not read the article and would not let the verdict in Diehl's case affect his opinion of Mrs. Diehl.

Over Shuttleworth's objection, Circuit Judge Alan Rosenblatt ruled that the juror's honesty proved he was capable of rendering a fair decision.

Mrs. Diehl did not look at the lawyers or the jury during closing arguments. She sat staring straight ahead or rocked in her seat, wearing dark glasses to hide red, puffy eyes.

While the jury deliberated, she had a picnic in the courtyard with her husband, who is free on bond pending a sentencing hearing. He gave her a rose bought at a convenience store across the street.

In her testimony Wednesday, Mrs. Diehl admitted she "bonked" Andrew on the head with the paddle a few days before he lapsed into a coma.

"He didn't say `ouch'; he didn't cry; he didn't lose consciousness," she said. "He got up and gave me a kiss and said goodnight."

The next day, she said Andrew told her, "Mommy, I don't feel good today. I'm tired and I'm cold."

The following morning, he was wobbly when he got up, and Mrs. Diehl said she had to hold him up by the belt loops as he walked the aisle of the bus they lived in. When she let go to talk to her husband, he fell.

Neither saw him go down, they said.

Diehl said he thought Andrew banged his head on a plastic crayon box, while Mrs. Diehl said she believed he hit the metal frame of a bunk.

Phillips reminded the jury yesterday that two doctors testified the injuries were to the top of the boy's head, making it virtually impossible for him to have been hurt in a fall.

The blows from the paddle apparently caused blood clots to form inside the boy's skull, the doctors said, putting pressure on his brain that resulted in lapses of consciousness and a severe drop in body temperature.

The parents waited an hour after the boy collapsed before calling the rescue squad, Phillips said, because they knew they would be accused of child abuse.

Defense attorney Robert Morecock said if that were true, "They would have gotten on the bus, put it in high gear and hightailed it out of here."

In her zeal to help Andrew, who had been tossed out of five foster homes before hers, Mrs. Diehl went too far, he said.

She tearfully acknowledged that if she had it to do over, she would tone down the spankings and forgo the bondage.

"We may very possibly have been wrong" in not seeking professional help with Andrew's bizarre behavioral problems, she testified.

Phillips suggested that Mrs. Diehl's remorse was feigned.

"She is a cold, calculating woman," who is trying to excuse her crimes by blaming the actions of a dead child, he said.

"It was not his fault he was murdered by his own mother," Phillips said. "Those (beatings) are not acts of love and compassion, those are acts of malice."

When the couple's remaining 16 children, 12 of them adopted with severe handicaps, were introduced to the jury, there was an unmistakable bond of love between them and their mother, Morecock said.

"A hateful, malicious monster? Is that the kind of woman who would tell you she always had a place in her heart for kids no one else wanted?" he asked. "Is there anyone else in the courtroom other than Karen Diehl who would have adopted these kids?"

Sending her to prison would not bring Andrew back, and the other children have already been taken from their parents, Morecock said.

"That is the greatest punishment Karen Diehl can receive," he said.

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