Date: 1986-12-19

Rex Springston
Richmond Times-Dispatch

The city's prosecutor says he will try to get a damaging statement by Karen Diehl, accused in the death of her 13-year-old adopted son, admitted as evidence when the case goes to trial.

Judge J. Davis Reed III yesterday threw out the videotaped statement by Mrs. Diehl, who admitted that she and her husband, Michael, had shackled their son to the floor of their school bus home for several days before he died Oct. 29.

Reed said the statement was not given voluntarily. On the tape, the 36- year-old Mrs. Diehl, appearing haggard and speaking in low tones, told detectives she was tired and didn't understand what she was getting into. The investigators pushed on. "I think he was mistaken," Commonwealth's Attorney Paul Sciortino said of Reed's decision. "I'm sure he thought he was right. . . . We will take it up in circuit court."

Reed certified to a grand jury charges of murder, abduction and other crimes lodged against the Diehls. The grand jury will convene Jan. 5 to consider indicting them.

If legal proceedings go as expected, the case may be tried in February or March. The Diehls are free on bond.

Reed's decision to certify the charges ended an unusually long, 1 1/2-day preliminary hearing in Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court. Through videotaped statements shown during the hearing, both Diehls admitted shackling Dominick "Andrew" Diehl naked to the floor of the bus because he stole food and urinated on his brothers' and sisters' clothes.

Michael Diehl, 41, a lean Navy veteran and former carpenter, also admitted paddling the youth until his buttocks bled and forcing him to lie, shackled, in his own excrement. A handcuff and a hose clamp were used to restrain the youth's wrists, and his feet were tied with cord.

The Diehls did not take the witness stand. But their 14-year-old son, Brian, testified yesterday that his parents sometimes forced Andrew to eat excrement and drink urine as punishment.

At one point, Brian Diehl broke down in tears, and his father stepped over to console him.

During his testimony, Brian looked back several times and smiled at his parents, seated just behind him. He reached back a couple of times to touch them.

The brown-haired, rosy-cheeked youth blew his parents a kiss when he left the courtroom.

Before Andrew's death, the Diehls had 17 children, 13 of them adopted. The children since have been placed in foster homes.

The Diehls, who own a home in Post Falls, Idaho, are fundamentalist Christians who traveled the country with the children for about two years in the converted school bus before arriving here in March. They stayed at two campgrounds.

Andrew, an emotionally troubled youth adopted five years ago, was so bothersome that he was bound to the floor of the bus for as long as a week at a time, Diehl said.

On Oct. 24, the youth fell unconscious in the bus. He had been restrained the previous night and paddled that morning. Diehl said he and Karen prayed at least 35 minutes for him before calling for help. Andrew was taken to a hospital but never recovered.

Doctors at the hospital found the youth had suffered a severe head injury. One doctor testified that the injury came from several blows on the head. The youth had sores on his buttocks and numerous bruises about his body. He weighed 68 pounds, the weight of an average 9-year-old.

The Diehls got Andrew, the son of a prostitute, from an Idaho adoption agency after a foster family, during a family meeting, told him they didn't like his behavior and didn't want him, Diehl said.

Diehl said Andrew had been giving up on life. Diehl said he and his wife were disciplining the youth to teach him how to live.

"God sent us Andrew to love and raise, and that's why we never sent him back," Diehl said.


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