Trial Begins for Russian Accused of Marking Murders on Chessboard
MOSCOW – A man accused of killing dozens of people and keeping count of his victims on a chessboard lured most his victims by offering them vodka to mourn the death of a nonexistent dog, prosecutors said at his murder trial Friday.
Alexander Pichushkin, 33, has confessed to killing at least 62 people, with the goal of marking all 64 squares on the chessboard. He has been charged with 49 murders, most committed over the course of five years in a sprawling park on the edge of Moscow.
Pichushkin's lawyer Pavel Ivannikov said Friday that his client admitted all the charges.
Pichushkin himself refused to enter a plea, however, demanding that he be transferred to a different detention facility.
"I'm not going to say `yes' or `no' today because some of my personal issues have not been resolved yet," he told court.
Ivannikov said that Pichushkin wanted to be transferred to another, "more comfortable" detention facility.
Pichushkin had requested a jury trial, which is relatively rare in Russia, and 12 jurors and six alternates were chosen Thursday. If convicted, Pichushkin faces life in prison.
Pichushkin remained calm and looked down, sitting in a glass cage on Friday as he listened to prosecutors who described his crimes one by one.
Pichushkin's first victim was his school friend, whom he strangled and threw into a sewage pit in 1992 because he was "upset" by the friend's refusal to kill people together with him, said Moscow Chief Prosecutor Yuri Syomin.
He began his spate of killings in Bittsa Park in southwestern Moscow, which terrorized the Russian capital, in May 2001, Syomin said. Most of the victims were men, whom Pichushkin had lured to the park with the promise of a drink of vodka to mourn the death of his nonexistent "beloved" dog.
"He treated them to a drink until they got helpless and then killed them," Syomin said.
In 2001 Pichushkin killed 11 people, including six in one month, prosecutors said. He killed about 40 of his first victims by throwing them into a sewage pit, and in a few cases strangled or shot them in the head with "a self-made device."
From 2005 he began to kill with "particular cruelty," hitting his intoxicated victims multiple times in the head with a hammer, then sticking an unfinished bottle of vodka into their broken sculls, prosecutors said Friday. He also no longer tried to conceal the bodies, leaving them at the crime scene, they said.
Three of Pichushkin's victims survived and one identified him.
Only a few relatives of victims, some of whom were his neighbors and colleagues from a shop where he had worked, attended Friday's court session.
One woman said her father had been missing since 2003 and after Pichushkin's arrest they were told that he was murdered by Pichushkin. She looked tense when prosecutors were going through Pichushkin's crimes in 2003. She refused to give her name because of the sensitivity of the matter.
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 involvement at first, but then confessed to the murder after police confronted him with video footage taken by a subway surveillance camera that showed him accompanying the victim, according to the authorities.
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 speculation that he had been forced into making false confessions.
"For me, a life without murder is like a life without food for you," Pichushkin bragged in his TV confession. "I felt like the father of all these people, since it was I who opened the door for them to another world."
Police found his chessboard with numbers attached to its squares, all the way to 62, and Pichushkin also used the chessboard to keep stoppers from bottles of vodka he offered his victims, said his lawyer Ivannikov.
Experts at the Serbsky Institute, Russia's main psychiatric clinic, have found Pichushkin sane.
Russian media, including the government-run Rossisskaya Gazeta, have speculated that Pichushkin may have been motivated by a macabre competition with Russia's most notorious serial killer, Andrei Chikatilo, who was convicted in 1992 of killing 52 children and young women over the course of 12 years.