MOSCOW – A man accused of killing dozens of people in a Moscow park over several years and marking his slayings on a chessboard — with the goal of filling all 64 squares — will face a jury trial next month, a court ruled Monday.
After his arrest last year, Alexander Pichushkin claimed that he had killed more than 60 people, but prosecutors said they had only gathered evidence to charge him with 49 murders.
In a police confession broadcast on NTV television shortly after his arrest, Pichushkin bragged about what he said was his passion for killing.
"For me, a life without murder is like a life without food for you," he said. "I felt like the father of all these people, since it was I who opened the door for them to another world."
Pichushkin, 33, appeared calm during Monday's preliminary hearing. The judge accepted his appeal for a jury trial and ruled that it should be open to the public. The trial was set to start Sept. 13.
Pichushkin faces life in prison if convicted; Russia has maintained a moratorium on capital punishment in line with its obligations to the Council of Europe.
The spate of killings in the sprawling Bittsa Park in southwestern Moscow began in 2001 and terrorized the Russian capital.
Pichushkin was arrested in June 2006 after police found his name and phone number on a piece of paper that a woman who was killed in the park had left for her son. He denied his involvement at first, but then confessed to the murder after police confronted him with video footage taken by a surveillance camera in the subway that showed him accompanying the victim.
Pichushkin went on to confess to at least 62 murders and led police to the bodies of his victims, investigators said. Shortly after his arrest, police invited NTV to film and broadcast his confessions in an effort to counter media speculation that he had been forced into making false confessions.
Experts at the Serbsky Institute, Russia's main psychiatric clinic, have found Pichushkin sane.
Pichushkin said in the televised confessions that he had killed his first victim, a classmate, in 1992 when he was 18. Police had questioned him then, but no charges were filed.
The killings in Bittsa Park began almost a decade later. Most of the victims were men whom Pichushkin had lured to the park by the promise of a drink, investigators said.
Police found his chessboard with numbers attached to its squares, all the way to 62, the chief investigator in the case, Andrei Suprunenko, said in a recently published interview. Pichushkin also used the chessboard to keep stoppers from bottles of vodka he offered his victims.
Pichushkin killed more than 40 people by throwing them into a sewage pit after they were too drunk to resist, Suprunenko, the investigator, said in a recently published interview. Three others survived and one identified him, he said.
Pichushkin killed the others by hitting them with a hammer, the investigator said.