The Drowned and the Saved

An anti-abortion crusader faces manslaughter charges for the accidental death of a child

Instead, Diener would rather leave his fate up to a jury, which could find him guilty of both counts. Although Griffith has said the State Attorney's Office is not seeking a prison term, the judge could sentence him to serve five to fifteen years if he is found guilty. With his trial just days away, Diener passes the time lashing out at his perceived enemies.

He blames his wife's former husband, Drew Hillman, as well as Drew's father, Brian Hillman, for persuading the State Attorney's Office to prosecute him in the first place for a crime he didn't commit. "Accidents like this one happen all the time," he insisted. "I have not done anything wrong." He also claims that the elder Hillman was involved in a failed attempt by the state's Department of Children and Families to remove Melanie from her mother after Rainey's death. "Brian has been at all of my court hearings since day one," Diener said. "He is the driving force behind this case against me."

During separate telephone interviews a few weeks ago, Brian and Drew Hillman denied speaking to anyone from the State Attorney's Office or contacting DCF about removing Melanie from her mother's custody. Drew Hillman said he had one telephone conversation with the assistant state attorney handling the case when Diener was charged. "The State Attorney's Office," he noted, "is just doing its job."

Four-year-old Rainey Hillman in September 2002, five months before she 
Four-year-old Rainey Hillman in September 2002, five months before she drowned
Melanie Hillman, now seven-years-old, told homicide investigators she 
last saw her sister chasing pigeons near the sea wall
Jonathan Postal
Melanie Hillman, now seven-years-old, told homicide investigators she last saw her sister chasing pigeons near the sea wall

Brian Hillman did acknowledge his attendance at Diener's court hearings. "He let my granddaughter drown!" Hillman fumed. "Obviously, I'm not happy with him! He needs to go to jail for a least a year so people understand that you can't let children play close to deep water without adult supervision!"

At the time of Rainey Hillman's death, the family lived aboard the Alchemist, which was docked in Haulover Park Marina's northernmost slip. Following the advice of his attorney, Michael Pizzi, Diener has declined to discuss the details of his actions on the day that Rainey drowned. He would only describe what his daily routine was prior to January 23, 2003.

The family's typical day would begin at dawn, he recalled. They would eat breakfast together; then Diener would drive Melanie to St. Mark's Lutheran School and drop off his wife and Rainey at First Presbyterian School, where Bustamante worked as a part-time teacher's aide and where Rainey attended preschool day care. After dropping his family off, Diener would return to the boat to work on his foundation, writing fundraising letters to church groups and making phone calls to pastors at churches around the nation.

By three in the afternoon, he would drive back to Hollywood and pick up his wife and stepchildren. On the way home, they'd sometimes stop at a market for groceries. "The girls liked going to the store because they always got a free cookie from the bakery," he recalled. "When we got home, Melanie and Rainey would usually change out of their uniforms and head out to the grassy area to play for about an hour with the other children living at the marina." That grassy area is a wide stretch of green that lies between the marina's parking lot and a bench-lined sidewalk running the length of the shoreline. On the bay side of the sidewalk a sea wall drops down to the water line, which is between six to twelve feet deep, depending on the tide.

According to Bustamante, Melanie and Rainey had gone out to play at about 4:15 that January afternoon. Witnesses recalled seeing the two girls and a number of other children who lived aboard nearby boats chasing and playing games with a dog named Silo in the grassy area in front of the boat slips.

James White, skipper of the Halua, which was berthed in the southernmost slip opposite the Alchemist, told police that his two daughters were playing with the Hillman girls in the grass behind a small dive shop at the northern end of the marina, just parallel to Diener's boat. White said he would periodically check on the children from his boat. "At no time did he observe the victim's mother or Diener, until several minutes after the victim had been removed from the water," wrote police during his statement to them.

White's children told police that they and a little boy were playing with Melanie and Rainey, and that Rainey must have walked away, unbeknownst to them. One of the girls said the four of them had ventured down to the end of the pier, near the stern of the Alchemist.

The boy, then a third-grader at Ojus Elementary in North Miami Beach, told Miller that he went to retrieve a fishing pole from the Big John, a vessel docked near the Alchemist, and that when he returned he didn't see Rainey and was unsure of her whereabouts. He also said that Rainey's "mommy and daddy" remained aboard the Alchemist until they were notified of the little girl's death.

Sometime between 4:15 and 4:44 p.m., diving instructor Peter Tstrian had just returned from an excursion and was unloading his clients dockside. He looked up and saw Rainey standing by the sea wall, "waving hello to me, as she does pretty much every day." He also told lead investigator Robert Miller, a homicide detective with the Miami-Dade Police Department, that he'd seen between ten and twenty other children playing by the dock, but didn't see any adults there. After Rainey waved to him, he saw her head back toward the grassy area along with the other children. "And that," he said, "was the last I saw of her."

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