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Jury trial begins for Russia's 'chessboard killer'

Moscow's so-called chessboard killer, who boasted on Russian TV about marking each of his alleged slayings on a chessboard with the goal to fill all 64 squares, stood trial Thursday in the Russian capital.

Moscow's so-called chessboard killer, who boasted on Russian TV about marking each of his alleged slayings on a chessboard with the goal to fill all 64 squares, stood trial Thursday in the Russian capital.

Alexander Pichushkin, dubbed the 'chessboard killer' by Russian media, claims to have marked 62 alleged murders on the squares of a chessboard. Prosecutors have gathered enough evidence to charge him with 49 murders. ((Associated Press))

A jury of 12people chosen Thursday will have to decide whether Alexander Pichushkin is, as he claims, the country's worst serial killer, surpassing the 53 killings attributed to Andrei Chikatilo, the infamous "Butcher of Rostov" executed in 1994.

If found guilty, Pichushkin faces a lifetime jail sentence, as capital punishment has been suspended in Russia since 1996.

Prosecutors said they only had enough evidence for 49 murder charges against the 33-year-old grocery-store stock clerk, despite his claims that those figures are a few victimsshort of his own tally.

According to Pichushkin, he has killed at least 61 people, as indicated by a hand-drawn chessboard diagram in his notebook in which nearly all the squares were filled and marked with dates. Media reports said that police searched the apartment where Pichushkin lived with his mother and found a chessboard with its squares numbered all the way to 62.

'Life without murder is like a life without food'

It was Pichushkin's stated goal to kill at least 64 people — the same number of squares on a chessboard.

Most of the victims weremiddle-aged homeless men.

After his arrest in June 2006, Moscow police invited NTV television crews to tape Pichushkin's confessions in order to stave off any suggestions they had coerced him into false confessions.

"For me, a life without murder is like a life without food for you," he said in the video.

Interview footage showed Pichushkin describing in detail how he allegedly befriended his victims over a game of chess and then lured them to Moscow's vast Bitzevksky Park with the offer of vodka. Once intoxicated, the victims were allegedly bludgeoned with a hammer and tossed into a nearby sewage pit.

Declared sane by psychiatrists

Hundreds of police began sweeping the 1,600-hectare suburban park after victims started turning up in October 2005.

Pichushkin claimed that he committed his first murder in 1992, killing a romantic rival when he was 18 years old. Police questioned him as a teen, but later ruled the death a suicide.

In the NTV broadcast, he told police he developed a renewed appetite for killing in 2001 that continued for the next five years. "If they hadn't caught me, I would never have stopped never. They saved a lot of lives by catching me," he said.

Russia's top psychiatric clinic, the Serbsky Institute, has ruled Pichushki to be sane and fit for trial.

The questioning of witnesses and presentation of evidence was to begin Friday.

With files from the Associated Press

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