Date: 1987-09-01

Rex Springston
Richmond Times-Dispatch

Michael Diehl apologized today to other Christians and to God, but a judge still sentenced him to 41 years in prison.

"I cannot find any reason to upset that jury's verdict," Virginia Beach Circuit Judge Edward W. Hanson said in upholding the recommendation of a jury.Diehl, a former carpenter and Navy lieutenant junior grade, was convicted July 15 of first-degree murder, abduction and other counts in connection with the death of his adopted son. The jury, after deliberating 7 1/2 hours over two days, recommended the 41-year sentence and a $1,000 fine.

Diehl's wife, Karen, 36, was convicted July 17 on counts of involuntary manslaughter, abduction, child neglect and assault. Her jury recommended a 31- year sentence. She is to be sentenced Sept. 16.

During the nearly two-hour-long sentencing hearing today, Diehl, 42, took the witness stand and for the first time said he was wrong in disciplining his 13-year-old adopted son so harshly that he died.

That discipline included shackling Dominick "Andrew" Diehl to the floor of the Diehl family school-bus home and forcing him to eat his bodily wastes. Even Christians make mistakes, Diehl said. "They just don't all make them as obviously as I did."

Andrew died Oct. 29.

"I hurt for him and for what has happened," Diehl said. "I wish I could do it over again."

Diehl said he made a mistake in not seeking professional help for Andrew, the emotionally disturbed son of a Chicago prostitute.

Diehl said he wanted to apologize to "all the people who have watched us through the years and always thought we were a good Christian family. I wish I could erase what's been done. I feel I need to apologize to them, which is really apologizing to God."

Diehl spoke in calm, somber tones. "To think that he is dead because of something I possibly may have done -- I have to live with that the rest of my life and that's hard to stomach," he said.

Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Robert J. Humphreys noted that Diehl had not shown remorse before today. "When did this transformation take place?" he asked.

While thinking in jail, Diehl said.

Defense lawyer Paul Sutton argued that Diehl is no threat to society and asked that his sentence be suspended.

But Hanson said the jury had reached its decision after taking great care.The Diehls are believed to be the first people in Virginia to be convicted of feloniously abducting their own child. Testimony in both trials showed the youth was shackled, beaten with a 2-foot paddle and forced to eat his bodily wastes.

The charges on which Diehl was convicted and the recommended sentences were: first-degree murder, 20 years (the minimum); abduction, 10 years; felony child neglect, 10 years; and assault (a misdemeanor, reduced by the jury from malicious wounding), 12 months and a $1,000 fine.

The Diehls have said they disciplined Andrew out of love in an effort to break him of bad habits such as urinating and defecating on others' belongings.

The youth fell unconscious Oct. 24 on the floor of the family bus and died five days later.

The Diehls, of Post Falls, Idaho, were living with their 13 adopted and four natural children in the bus at a campground when Andrew died.


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