MOSCOW – A former grocery store clerk who imagined he was "almost God" as he methodically hunted and sought to kill one person for every space on a chessboard has been sentenced to life in prison for 48 murders.
A Moscow court handed down Russia's harshest possible sentence for Alexander Pichushkin, 33, who mostly preyed on residents of his poor Moscow neighborhood.
Pichushkin stood in a reinforced glass cage, his hands cuffed behind his back, while the judge read out the sentence Monday. Asked whether he understood the sentence, he replied: "I'm not deaf."
The courtroom was packed with his victims' relatives and journalists.
Pichushkin, who remained unrepentant and defiant during the trial, looked subdued and depressed on Monday. Some of the victims' relatives wiped away tears as they listened to the sentence.
Pichushkin became known as "the chessboard killer" because he said he aimed to kill 64 people to match the spaces on a chessboard.
He had boasted of killing 60 people and trying to kill three others. However, prosecutors could only find evidence to charge him with 48 murders and three attempted murders.
After a five-week trial, a jury found Pichushkin guilty last Wednesday on all counts.
Prosecutors said most of his victims were killed in Bittsa Park in southern Moscow from 2001 until his arrest in 2006. They said Pichushkin lured most of his victims — many of them homeless, alcoholic and elderly — by promising them vodka if they would join him in mourning the death of his dog.
Pichushkin killed 11 people in 2001, including six in one month, prosecutors said. Most died after he threw them into a sewage pit after getting them drunk, and in a few cases strangled or hit them in the head, prosecutors said.
Beginning in 2005, Pichushkin — a carpenter by training who worked as a grocery store clerk — began to kill with "particular cruelty," hitting his victims multiple times in the head with a hammer, then sticking a bottle of vodka into their shattered skulls, prosecutors said. He no longer tried to conceal the bodies.
He was arrested in June 2006 after a woman who left a note at home saying she was going for a walk with Pichushkin was found dead.
"Justice has been done," Moscow city prosecutor Yuri Syomin said after the sentencing. "The culprit has been held accountable."
Pichushkin will serve his term in a hard labor colony and undergo psychiatric treatment for "a personality disorder expressed in a sadistic inclination toward murder," said judge Vladimir Usov. He added, however, that Pichushkin was aware of the criminal nature of his actions.
Tatiana Vlasova, whose son Vladimir was among the victims, said Pichushkin will never understand what he has done. "He should have been treated as an exceptional case and given a death sentence," she said, holding a photograph of her murdered son.
Russia has maintained a moratorium on capital punishment as part of its obligations to the Council of Europe.
Pichushkin said in his final statement to the court on Thursday that he felt he was "almost God" in deciding who would live and who would die: "I was prosecutor, judge and executioner. I decided who was to live and who was to die."
"The notions of good and evil are relative things," he said. He also said he wanted to make each murder "as memorable as possible."
Investigators found a chessboard in Pichushkin's home with numbers, cut out from newspapers, glued to its squares.
Prior to Pichushkin, Russia's most notorious serial killer was Andrei Chikatilo, who was convicted in 1992 of killing 52 children and young women over 12 years.
Police missed a chance to get Pichushkin in 2002, when an officer chose to do nothing when he was reported by a woman who had survived his attack. The policeman is currently under investigation.
Pichushkin chose most of his victims in his own poor, workers' neighborhood of Zyuzino.
"Life is hard, there is no money, no jobs, police are corrupt," said Valentin Pronin, whose brother Yevgeny was killed in May 2001 at the start of Pichushkin's murderous rampage. "Some people stay quiet. Pichushkin freaked out, became aggressive."
Pronin said that Pichushkin got a harsh enough punishment. "Conditions are cruel there (in colony), no medical care, food is bad. He is going to suffer."