Polish trial reveals police defense

He was only obeying orders, Polish secret police Lt. Leszek Pekala told the hushed courtroom in the Torun murder trial Friday. In the land of Auschwitz this was a defense that sounded more like an accusation to many of the 100 listeners crammed into the northern Polish courtroom. It could have been quoted verbatim from the guards at Nazi extermination camps in World War II.

It was so interpreted by Germans who heard accounts of Lieutenant Pekala's response. And it was so interpreted by the Polish man in the street, who has made a saint of the Rev. Jerzy Popieluszko, the pro-Solidarity priest whom three Polish security policemen have confessed to killing in October.

On the second day of Pekala's testimony the prosecutors seemed no closer to unraveling the many mysteries still surrounding Fr. Popieluszko's abduction and murder. Pekala maintained that he, Lt. Waldemar Chmielewski, and Capt. Grzegorz Piotrowski had only intended to frighten the antigovernment priest into silence, and not to kill him. To this end they beat the priest severely four times when he tried to escape, Pekala said, then left him tied inside a car trunk where he died.

Under cross-examination Pekala admitted that at some point he realized Popieluszko would have to die.

The second defendant in the case, Lieutenant Chmielewski, will testify when the trial resumes Jan. 2.

Further witnesses in the trial will include Popieluszko's driver, who managed to jump out of the moving car after the abduction and was later able to identify the three kidnappers despite their elaborate change of clothes and car licenses at the time of the abduction.

Captain Piotrowski will also be called on to testify. Pekala identified him as the one who beat Popieluszko unconscious and who in response to the priest's pleas for his life said, ''If you don't keep quiet, I will strangle you with my bare hands,'' according to Reuters.

Pekala said that he and Chmielewski suggested after the fourth beating that Popieluszko just be left in the forest. Piotrowski rejected this, however, Pekala alleged, and replied, ''No. Only the water,'' and had Pekala attach stones to Popieluszko's body and throw him into a lake.

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