' NOBODY WOULD UNDERSTAND' BEATINGS, DIEHL TOLD POLICE
In a videotaped statement played in court yesterday, Michael Diehl said he and his wife never allowed outsiders to see them bind and beat their 13-year- old adopted son because "nobody would understand, we'd get caught for child abuse."
Michael and Karen Diehl were charged with child abuse, as well as murder, abduction and malicious assault, after the emotionally disturbed boy they called "Andrew" died Oct. 29.
A trial date of June 1 was set yesterday for Michael Diehl. Another hearing has been scheduled April 7 for arguments on a motion to dismiss all charges against him, based on assertions by the defense that police had insufficient evidence to make the initial arrest.
No trial date has been set for Karen Diehl, but prosecutors said yesterday they hoped her case would be concluded by the end of April.
In separate taped statements, both parents admitted keeping the boy tied naked to the floor of the converted school bus they shared with 16 other children, and beating him until he bled if he wet the bed or refused to eat.
"We were not doing this to kill him, we were trying to get him to enjoy life," Michael Diehl said. "He's got a very tough hide, that's why it took so many whacks to get through to him."
Michael Diehl, who had initially asked to be excused from listening to the tape, returned halfway through and stood in the rear of the courtroom until it was over.
Virginia Beach Circuit Judge Alan Rosenblatt ruled at the end of the two- day hearing that all the statements Diehl made to police could be used against him except for the first 90 minutes of the videotape, which was recorded before he was advised of his constitutional rights.
Testimony revealed that before he was informed he had the right to remain silent and have an attorney present, Diehl was questioned by at least five police officers over a period of eight hours at the bus, at the hospital and at police headquarters.
But Rosenblatt ruled that Diehl's statements were voluntary, and that he was free to leave at any time during the preliminary questioning.
"The police action in this case, while vigorous, was not forceful, coercive or deceptive," Rosenblatt said.
The Diehls supported their four natural and 13 adopted children on welfare payments and fees from private adoption agencies. Dominick Diehl, renamed Andrew by the family, was the abused son of a Chicago prostitute who had been kicked out of six previous foster homes for misconduct.
Michael Diehl said in the taped statement that Andrew had to be spanked more frequently than the other children because he lied, stole and refused to eat. He was shackled to the bus with a handcuff, a hose clamp and a length of rope because he would urinate and defecate on the belongings of other family members, Diehl said.
Police and rescue workers called to the bus Oct. 24 found Andrew brain- dead and barely breathing. They noted scars on his wrists and ankles from the shackles, signs of severe weight loss, and open sores on his buttocks from repeated spankings. He remained in a coma for five days before succumbing to what doctors testified were multiple head blows.
But Michael Diehl insisted on tape that Andrew "was not struck in the head, he was not pushed" to the floor.
According to Diehl's account, his wife bathed the boy and put iodine on the cuts from switchings that morning and the day before, then untied him and helped him walk around for exercise.
Andrew fell, was helped to his feet, and fell again, Diehl said.
"The second time was when I believe he hit his head on that crayon box, a plastic crayon box," Diehl said.
Because Andrew had faked falls before, Diehl said, he was allowed to lie unconscious for about 10 minutes before his mother checked on him and noticed that his pupils were dilated and blood was flowing from his mouth.
"Hon, I think we've got a problem here," Diehl quoted his wife as saying. "That's when I came down and looked at him and realized it wasn't a game this time."
Diehl said he believed Andrew was willing himself to die, and both parents spent the next 45 minutes "praying and asking him to come back to us."
When Andrew failed to respond, Diehl said he began mouth-to-mouth resuscitation and heart massage while his wife went to call the rescue squad.