PHILADELPHIA (AP) _ Friends of Eddie Polec gasped when a defense lawyer described the teen as a beer-drinking brawler who provoked the mob that beat him to death in front of a church.

``Mr. Polec belonged to a group of youths who `tuned up' anyone who crossed their turf,'' attorney Michael Applebaum told jurors Wednesday as trial began for six teens accused of pounding the 16-year-old former altar boy with bats and boots on Nov. 11, 1994. Polec died the next day.

A seventh teen-ager, Kevin Convey, pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter and was expected to testify against the others, prosecutor Joseph Casey said.

Casey is asking for life in prison for Bou Khathavong, Thomas Crook, Nick Pinero, Anthony Rienzi, Dewan Alexander and Carlo Johnson. Each has pleaded innocent to first-degree murder.

Lead defense attorney A. Charles Peruto Sr. said the defendants are ``not saints, not sinners, just today's kids.''

The victim's mother, Kathy Polec, red-eyed from a day's testimony that included coroner's slides of her son's badly beaten body, said she was appalled by the lawyers' characterizations, both of her son and of the defendants.

``I've never heard a bad word from anyone about Eddie _ ever _ except from the defense attorneys. He was a good kid, with exceptional qualities that made people love him,'' she said.

``And if boys like that who drive around with bats looking to beat children are normal, then God help us all.''

The defendants went on a rampage after hearing an unfounded rumor that a girl from their neighborhood had been raped, police said.

Prosecutor Casey said Convey will swear that the teens set out with two black-taped Louisville sluggers, intent on beating up rivals from across the city line.

After skirmishing at a fast-food restaurant, the boys cornered Polec in a church parking lot, police said. A witness has said Rienzi knocked Polec out with a blow to the head, then hoisted his limp body so that Pinero could land blow after blow with the bat, ``as if he was chopping wood.''

Police found Polec with his head ``shattered like a broken eggshell,'' City Medical Examiner Ian Hood testified at a pre-trial hearing.