Sat, Sep 15, 2007 - Page 6 News List

Trial opens in case of the `Chessboard Killer' in Moscow

CHECK MATE The 33-year-old man is charged with 49 murders. The accused claims he sought to kill 64 people -- one per square on a chessboard

NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , MOSCOW

A grocery shelf stocker suspected of trying to become the most prolific serial killer in post-Soviet Russia went on trial on Thursday, glaring from a cage and dismissing a defense lawyer while relatives of victims called for his death.

The accused, Aleksandr Pichushkin, 33, is charged with 49 counts of murder, part of what the authorities describe as a macabre and sustained scheme to kill one person for every square on a chessboard.

The charges include one count for each of the dozens of victims whom prosecutors say they have linked to a six-year rampage in an expansive, densely forested Moscow park.

DISMISSAL

Pichushkin appeared in Moscow City Court -- pale, scarred and coldly defiant -- and paced slowly in a cage while victims' relatives and potential jurors filed into the room. Minutes later he asked the judge to fire his private defense lawyer. The judge granted his wish. Pichushkin's court-appointed lawyer, Pavel Ivannikov, remained in the room, and later said he did not know why the private lawyer had been dismissed.

Pichushkin's case has caused fascination and revulsion, in part because of his grisly boasts on national television.

He was originally known as the Bitsevsky Maniac, a nickname derived from the park where he is accused of luring people into drinking sessions that ended with them being drowned in a sewer or pounded to death with a hammer or other blunt object.

After his arrest last year, investigators said he claimed to have marked off a square on a chessboard for every victim, with a goal of filling all 64. The Russian news media promptly assigned him a new name: the Chessboard Killer.

In an interview on the national NTV station after his arrest, Pichushkin spoke of killing as if it was both ordinary and required. "For me, a life without murder is like a life without food for you," he said.

DECEPTION

One of his main deceptions, the authorities said, was to befriend pensioners and alcoholics, and tell them that he was grieving over the death of his dog. Then, he would invite them for a drink in the woods at what he said was the dog's grave, the authorities said.

After drinking vodka with them, the authorities said, he would pounce. One of Pichushkin's goals, prosecutors have said, was to kill at least 53 people, one more than the number of victims of Andrei Chikatilo, the so-called Rostov Ripper. Chikatilo was convicted of 52 murders in 1992 and executed by firing squad in 1994. Russia put a moratorium on the death penalty in 1996.

If convicted, Pichushkin faces a life sentence.

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