Lawyers representing the family of a Warsaw priest murdered by secret policemen appealed today to spare an accused killer facing a death sentence, saying that the slain cleric was opposed to capital punishment and would offer forgiveness if he were alive.
In concluding statements before a provincial court in Torun, the attorneys rejected the defendants' claims that the murder was accidental, calling it a political provocation aimed at weakening Poland.
Addressing the unsolved question of who instigated the crime, one of the lawyers -- Jan Olszewski, a veteran defender of political dissidents and a former legal adviser to leaders of the outlawed Solidarity union -- surmised Soviet involvement. It was the first open suggestion in the 23-day-old trial of a Moscow link to the slaying of the Rev. Jerzy Popieluszko, an outspoken champion of Solidarity.
Affirming Popieluszko's reputation as a priest beloved by many Poles, the attorneys denounced remarks yesterday by a state prosecutor who said the cleric's political extremism incited the police agents' action.
"This goes beyond all permissible bounds. Such an equation between victim and hangman has never been seen in a court anywhere before," declared Edward Wende, who had successfully defended Popieluszko on charges of abusing his religious position and slandering the state.
Chief prosecutor Leszek Pietrasinski, recalling those charges, accused the priest of sowing hatred against Communists and ridiculing the state, thus prompting the murder plot. At the same time, he asked the court for guilty verdicts against the three secret police officers charged with the murder -- Grzegorz Piotrowski, Waldemar Chmielewski and Leszek Pekala -- as well as against their superior, Adam Pietruszka, who is accused of aiding and abetting the crime.
The prosecution sought the death sentence for Piotrowski, who allegedly headed the murder team, and 25-year prison terms for the others.
Opposing the request for a death sentence, Wende said Popieluszko was "repulsed by violence" and was "a great opponent of capital punishment." The same point was made by attorneys representing the priest's parents, brothers and driver.
Olszewski dismissed the prosecution's description of Chmielewski and Pekala as dedicated young officers blindly following orders. He said they had joined the murder mission hoping for promotions.
He said the killing was clearly a political provocation, one key being a Polish eagle insignia found at the scene of Popieluszko's abduction north of Torun. Chmielewski testified that the emblem had fallen off his cap accidentally, but Olszewski said expert analysis showed it had not been torn off and speculated it was left behind deliberately to implicate the police.
The crime, he said, was a "double provocation" -- designed to make officials suspect the opposition and citizens suspect the government, thus triggering "mutual terror."
Contending that "no group in Poland could have possibly wished" for such a development, he suggested that the clue to who was responsible lay in Poland's "geopolitical condition." Choosing his words cautiously, the lawyer said: "The weakness of one country is the strength of another. Every schoolchild who is properly taught his history knows who profits from a weak Poland."
The historical reference could be taken as meaning either the Germans or the Russians, both of whom have carved up Poland several times in recent centuries. Olszewski's ambiguous phrasing was understood as necessary to avoid a charge of slander.
In another development, Solidarity chairman Lech Walesa and other opposition leaders called for a 15-minute work stoppage next month to protest plans to raise food prices and lengthen working hours.