Wed, Aug 15, 2007 - Page 1 News List

Jury trial for prolific Russian serial killer to start on Sept. 13


One by one, the squares on the chessboard filled up with numbers -- each commemorating a murder.

Alexander Pichushkin allegedly killed most of his victims in a Moscow park, smashing their skulls with a hammer or throwing them into sewage pits after getting them drunk. He boasted he had nearly reached the last square, No. 64, by the time police captured him last year.

"For me, a life without murder is like a life without food for you," he told investigators in a nationally televised confession. "I felt like the father of all these people, since it was I who opened the door for them to another world."

Pichushkin, 33, looked calm and aloof on Monday as he sat in the defendant's cage of the Moscow City Court during a preliminary hearing in which a judge accepted his request for a jury trial and ruled it would start on Sept. 13.

After his arrest in June last year, Pichushkin claimed he had killed more than 60 people over several years, but prosecutors said they only had evidence to charge him with 49 murders carried out in Moscow's Bittsa Park between 2005 and last year.

At the cramped apartment where he shared a bedroom with his mother, police found his chessboard with numbers attached to its squares -- all the way up to 62.

Most of the victims were men, many of them homeless, whom Pichushkin had allegedly lured to the park with a promise of vodka. To some, he proposed a toast in memory of the dog he walked in the park and buried there when it died, investigators say.

Pichushkin allegedly rammed sticks or vodka bottles into the shattered skulls of some of his victims. More than 40 were purportedly killed by being tossed into a sewage pit.

As the killings grew more frequent in 2005 and panic spread among the public, hundreds of police were sent to sweep Bittsa Park for suspects.

At one point last year, police thought they had a break in the case. Officers shot and arrested a man who had brandished a knife as he tried to flee a police patrol. To show they were one the wrong track, Pichushkin killed two more victims within a week, he told investigators.

Pichushkin said police in the area repeatedly stopped him for identity checks but let him go.

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