IN THE END, it seemed to be a routine courtroom case about a young black man murdered over drugs - hardly noteworthy in a city plagued by numbingly similar deaths.

When the alleged killers of Terrell Pough went on trial yesterday, Courtroom 607 in the Criminal Justice Center was sparsely filled. A few family members. A few reporters.

No crowds of curious onlookers, no banquette of TV cameras lined up outside the building, no swarms of media there to record the final chapter in Terrell Pough's life.

It was a life that went from celebrity to notoriety - and now, apparently, to obscurity.

Once, he was a hero.

Pough was profiled in People magazine in 2005 as a single teen father who'd overcome the lure of the streets out of love for his toddler daughter, Diamond. He was raising her alone while attending school and working two jobs.

But Pough plummeted from the pedestal several months later when he was murdered for allegedly failing to repay a $1,000 drug debt.

When the heartwarming caricature fell apart, the outside world apparently lost interest.

Which is a shame.

Because the story of Terrell Pough is far more meaningful than the one-dimensional tale that was told before.

Because it's gray, not black-and-white. It's about a life that included darkness and light, failure and triumph, weakness and strength.

In other words, a true story that ended tragically, not a fable that inevitably fell apart.

Assistant District Attorney Carmen Lineberger made no mention of Pough's brief period as a national hero in her opening statement to the jury yesterday.

She spoke only of the facts of the case. That Pough allegedly owed defendant Antoine Riggins money for 4.5 ounces of crack cocaine. That he supposedly was dodging Riggins' phone calls.

And that Riggins executed him with a bullet to the brain on Nov. 17, 2005, outside Pough's Germantown apartment.

Lineberger didn't mention that, in the aftermath of the People article, an admirer gave Pough a car, the 76ers honored him and his daughter at a basketball game, and he was offered jobs and donations by a society smitten by his inspiring tale.

She didn't mention that 500 people attended a funeral service for Pough at Temple University - before Riggins confessed and the motive in the slaying became known.

What does it matter now?

Because Pough's extraordinary story evolved into one that's sadly familiar to the city.

"He was killed for the love of money," Lineberger told the jury.

And as she described the slaying - Riggins allegedly blew Terrell Pough's brains out, literally - Pough's grandmother sobbed aloud from her seat in the courtroom.

And the poignant fact is this: a guilty verdict may be something of a mixed blessing to Terrell Pough's loved ones.

Pough's family insists that he never had been involved in trafficking drugs, that he never had time, between his jobs and his schoolwork and his beloved daughter.

They discount the confessions of Riggins and his co-defendant as a vicious effort to destroy Pough's reputation, out of jealousy for the celebrity and good fortune that came his way in the aftermath of the People article.

A guilty verdict from the jury may close the case - but it will officially confirm that Terrell Pough's life wasn't what his family thought.

It may bring closure without consolation.

And that's another way in which this isn't a routine courtroom case about a young black man murdered over drugs - as if there is such a thing. *

E-mail porterj@phillynews.com or call 215-854-5850. For recent columns: