A second secret police officer who has admitted taking part in the murder of the Rev. Jerzy Popieluszko, a pro-Solidarity Roman Catholic priest, said today he had acted on the understanding that the plot had the support of officials at "the top," according to reporters at the trial.
Testifying in a stutter and with the right side of his face twitching visibly from a nervous collapse he reportedly suffered after his arrest, former lieutenant Waldemar Chmielewski told a court: "By the top, I understood one of the department directors in the Interior Ministry or a deputy minister."
Chmielewski was the second junior Interior Ministry official to point to higher-ups in the death of the outspoken Warsaw priest. The first was his partner, former lieutenant Leszek Pekala, testifying last week.
Pekala, who ended three days of testimony today, was led in questioning by his attorney into making statements of remorse about the killing. He said he did not believe it was necessary for the priest to die and added, "I know now that there is no aim so high as to justify the killing of a man."
The trial resumed today in Torun after a New Year's recess. The Washington Post, along with many other news organizations, has been refused permission to cover it and this account is based on the reports of some of the seven western journalists allowed access.
The two former lieutenants and their captain, Grzegorz Piotrowski -- all since reduced to the rank of private -- are charged with murdering Popieluszko on Oct. 19.
Their superior, Col. Adam Pietruszka, deputy head of the Interior Ministry department in which the three worked monitoring church activities, has been accused of encouraging and assisting in the crime. Pietruszka denies instigating the murder. The three lower-ranking officers have confessed to it although Chmielewski, like Pekala, today denied that he had intended to kill Popieluszko.
The government's case portrays Piotrowski as the central culprit, taking the initiative and pressing for the killing out of hatred for Popieluszko and frustration with legal efforts to curb his opposition activities.
Chmielewski supported Pekala's earlier accusations that Piotrowski had created an impression that the operation against the priest had high-level protection within the government. He said Piotrowski summoned him and Pekala to a meeting in early October to discuss "actions to frighten Father Popieluszko," indicating that approval existed for such actions.
Kidnaping was mentioned then, Chmielewski said, with the aim of intimidating the priest to provide information about the political underground.
During the planning talks, Chmielewski said, concern was expressed about the priest's frail health and the possibility he could die of a stroke during an abduction. Piotrowski reportedly said he would have to check with a superior about what to do in such a case.
Some days later, Chmielewski said, the captain told him not to worry if the priest died. He quoted Piotrowski as saying it had taken time to get an answer about that possibility because the matter had to go to "the top."
Despite his stammer, Chmielewski was articulate in the crowded courtroom, coming across more clearly than had the soft-spoken Pekala. He repeatedly implicated Piotrowski today and also linked Pietruszka to the crime, saying he and Pekala had gone to the colonel's home to pick up the key to Pietruszka's car, from which they got a special road clearance pass they used in the abduction of Popieluszko, to avoid searches at militia checkpoints.
Under questioning last week by the court, Pekala had appeared to back away from pretrial testimony implicating an unnamed deputy interior minister. He said he had misunderstood Piotrowski to say one of the ministry's six deputies had authorized Popieluszko's killing.
But Pekala today again blamed Piotrowski for creating an impression at least that "someone high up was behind" the action and that "our security was guaranteed."
"Piotrowski was able to create such an atmosphere to make me sure that one of the deputy ministers knew all about it," Pekala testified. "He never said it clearly, but I could think such a thing in the context of our conversations."
Up to the moment the three officers approached the reservoir at Wloclawek, northwest of Warsaw, to dump Popieluszko's battered, tied and gagged body into the water, Pekala said he had thought that the abduction was a kind of charade and that another police car would come along to stop the action.
"Until the end, I refused to believe that the whole affair would have a tragic end," he said. At another point, he declared: "I did not believe the priest had to die."
Between the killing and his arrest Oct. 25, Pekala said, he kept waiting for some sign that the crime had been done in the line of duty. Pekala said he was worried that Popieluszko's driver, who had escaped by jumping from the kidnapers' car, might recognize him, but that he was reassured by Piotrowski.
"If there is a need, you will change your name, job, apartment," he quoted the captain as telling him.
Pekala said he felt deceived when arrested. "I had the feeling of being cheated," he said. "Somebody used me in a case which supposedly was to be done for the highest aims, but now I know there is no aim so high as to justify the killing of a man."
He said he was the one who told investigators where to find Popieluszko's body. "No good would come out of it," he said in reference to keeping the body hidden. "The priest had to be buried."
Asked by Pietruszka's attorney whether he had ever tried to verify the planned action against Popieluszko with the colonel, Pekala said, "It was supposed to be secret. In that context, I was even warned against doing that."