A secret police colonel charged with aiding the confessed killers of the Rev. Jerzy Popieluszko was accused today of lying in court and pressed by a judge to tell the truth about his role in the crime.
Looking ill at ease under a barrage of questions, according to observers at the trial, Col. Adam Pietruszka tried to explain why he had not passed on to superiors important evidence during the investigation of the killers, who turned out to be junior officers under his supervision.
In earlier testimony before Torun's provincial court, the three other defendants -- former captain Grzegorz Piotrowski and former lieutenants Waldemar Chmielewski and Leszek Pekala -- repeatedly accused the colonel of urging them to silence Popieluszko, a Warsaw cleric known for his attacks on the government. Pietruszka also was said to have assisted the officers in a vain attempt to mislead the investigators after the Oct. 19 killing.
Pietruszka, 46, yesterday rebutted allegations that he had sanctioned violent action against the priest, although he admitted that he had wanted to curb Popieluszko's political activities. Today, he denied involvement in any cover-up.
He said he had not suspected his own men of killing Popieluszko, even after being told that a car used by them was seen in the area of the priest's abduction, because he could not imagine that people who held responsible posts in the Interior Ministry would commit so serious an offense. He insisted that he had not known in advance that his men were going to Bydgoszcz, where Popieluszko preached on the day of the kidnaping. But Judge Jurand Maciejewski challenged Pietruszka, noting that he had told investigators the opposite before the trial.
The judge bore down on Pietruszka, citing numerous other discrepancies between the colonel's courtroom and pretrial statements. Struggling to explain the contradictions, Pietruszka said that he had been placed in a constantly lit cell after his arrest and interrogated under stressful circumstances.
Pietruszka said that he began to suspect Piotrowski of the killing when two days after Popieluszko's disappearance, the colonel again asked the captain where the priest could be. "Everyone is asking me about him," he quoted Piotrowski as replying. "I don't know. Maybe he's floating in the Vistula."
Pietruszka said he took this as an absurd joke but was shocked by the answer. Popieluszko's battered and trussed body was pulled from a reservoir on the Vistula River 11 days after the priest was kidnaped.
Asked why he failed to advise others of his suspicions about Piotrowski, Pietruszka, who at first was part of a special committee investigating the abduction, said he had feared being implicated in the affair. "That was the only motive for my keeping silent," he said.
Growing impatient with the defendant, Judge Maciejewski admonished him, "You keep telling us your attitude about morality and truthfulness. Why don't you start being truthful?"
Pietruszka is to resume testifying Monday.