Verdict in Polish Trial Expected Thursday

Times Staff Writer

Testimony ended Tuesday in the unprecedented public trial of four Polish secret police officers on charges of murdering a politically active Roman Catholic priest, with three of the defendants expressing remorse for the killing and the fourth protesting his innocence.

The verdict is scheduled to be announced Thursday afternoon in the northern city of Torun, where the trial was held.

The state has called for the death penalty for secret police Capt. Grzegorz Piotrowski, the officer charged with leading the abduction and subsequent murder of Father Jerzy Popieluszko, 37, last Oct. 19. It has demanded 25-year prison terms, the maximum number of years possible under Polish law, for the other three.

Thursday's verdict will end one of the most controversial trials ever held in a Soviet Bloc country. Widespread coverage of the proceedings by Polish radio, television and newspapers has captivated the nation and provided Western observers with a rare look at the internal workings of a Soviet-style secret police organization.

Popieluszko was respected for his open support of Solidarity, the outlawed independent trade union, and his strident criticism of the government's repressive measures against it, and his murder triggered widespread public outrage.

In his closing statement to the seven-judge court, Capt. Piotrowski, 33, admitted kidnaping the priest but described his death as an accident.

"Death was not planned, that was not my aim," he said, speaking in a strong, composed manner. "If we had wanted to kill Popieluszko, being highly qualified members of the security forces, we could have done it more effectively."

Popieluszko was tied, gagged, and repeatedly beaten before his body was dumped into a reservoir near Torun.

Capt. Piotrowski acknowledged: "I committed an act of madness. It was a terrible mistake, and the consequences were foreseeable."

Col. Adam Pietruszka, reiterated his earlier contention that he knew nothing of the kidnaping until after Father Popieluszko was dead. "I am innocent," he said.

The 47-year-old colonel, who was the deputy head of a Polish secret police department devoted to monitoring Roman Catholic activities, is accused of instigating the Popieluszko murder plot, then trying to cover it up.

The two secret police lieutenants accused of assisting Piotrowski in the kidnaping and murder both appeared emotionally exhausted Tuesday as they admitted their guilt and pleaded for mercy.

Lt. Waldemar Chmielewski, 29, leaning on the dock and speaking with a pronounced stutter that developed during his initial interrogation, sobbed out regret.

"It was evil and unneeded," he said of the killing. "I blame myself and my superiors at the Interior Ministry. This is a horrible nightmare," he added, shortly before breaking down in tears.

The other accused lieutenant is Leszek Pekala, 32.

Before the defendants' final statements, one of the two government prosecutors in the case again strongly criticized Popieluszko as having brought on his own murder.

"One extreme leads to another extreme," the prosecutor said. "It has been claimed that Popieluszko's activity could have no link with the crime, but the truth is otherwise."

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