APPEALS COURT REINSTATES MRS. DIEHL'S CONVICTIONS
The Virginia Court of Appeals has reversed a decision of a three-judge panel and reinstated the involuntary manslaughter conviction of Karen Diehl in the death of her 13-year-old adopted son.
The full court granted a rehearing in the case after the panel concluded last September that a prospective juror should have been stricken from the jury panel because he acknowledged he had been influenced by news coverage of the case.
Such a rehearing is unusual in a case with no dissent. Judge Barbara M. Keenan wrote the opinion and was joined by Judges Bernard G. Barrow and James W. Benton Jr.
In a cryptic one-paragraph order made public late yesterday, the full court affirmed Mrs. Diehl's convictions on the manslaughter count and on charges of abduction, felony child neglect and assault and battery. She was sentenced to 31 years in prison.
Because the judges who participated in the rehearing were equally divided over whether Mrs. Diehl should have been granted a new trial, no opinion was written, and the September opinion was vacated.
The trials of Mrs. Diehl and her husband, Michael, in Virginia Beach Circuit Court received wide news coverage in 1987 because of the abuse of the mentally retarded child, Dominick "Andrew" Diehl.
The Diehls arrived in Virginia Beach in September 1986. They lived in a converted school bus with their 16 children, 13 of whom were adopted and had varying physical and mental handicaps.
Rescue workers were called to the bus on Oct. 24, 1986, and found Andrew near death from blows on the head. He died five days later in a hospital.
Mrs. Diehl testified that Andrew had been kept nude and tied to the floor of the bus with a pipe clamp on one hand, a handcuff on the other and a rope around his feet.
She admitted she had beat Andrew on the buttocks with a paddle until he bled and had hit him over the head with a paddle as many as 30 times. Mrs. Diehl also testified that she forced Andrew to eat his feces and to lick his urine off the school bus floor.
Michael Diehl, who was tried at the same time but before a different jury, was sentenced to 41 years in prison for his role in Andrew's death. His convictions have been affirmed on appeal.
Mrs. Diehl was released from the Virginia Correctional Center for Women after the panel's ruling in September.
Efforts to reach her attorneys to determine the immediate effect of yesterday's decision were unsuccessful.
She can appeal the decision to the Virginia Supreme Court, but it was not clear whether she will be allowed to remain free until the high court decides the case.