A man who once boasted he wanted to kill one victim for each of the 64 squares on a chessboard was found guilty of 48 murders Wednesday, a bloody spree that terrorized the Russian capital.
Alexander Pichushkin leaned against the wall of his reinforced glass cage in the courtroom and stared at the floor as the jury foreman took about an hour to read the verdict.
Although he claimed to have killed 63 people — most of them in southern Moscow’s Bittsa Park — prosecutors could only find evidence to accuse him of murdering 48 — most of which occurred over five years.
The panel, which deliberated for little over two hours, also found him guilty of three attempted murders.
Chief Prosecutor Yuri Syomin recommended that the judge sentence Pichushkin to life imprisonment, with the first 15 years to be spent in isolation given his violent nature. Russia has maintained a moratorium on the capital punishment as part of its obligations before the Council of Europe.
The country’s most notorious serial killer was Andrei Chikatilo, who was convicted in 1992 of killing 52 children and young women over the course of 12 years.
Victims' relatives attend session
About a dozen relatives of the victims attended Wednesday’s session, including a young woman whose eyes filled with tears during a break after the verdict was read. She shook her head and refused to talk to a reporter.
Many whose loved ones died at the hands of the “Bittsa Maniac,” as the serial killer came to be called, attended the five-week trial and heard the gruesome details of the murders.
Prosecutors said Pichushkin, 33, lured 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.
They said he killed 11 people in 2001, including six in one month. He killed most of his victims by throwing them into a sewage pit after they were drunk, and in a few cases strangled or hit them in the head, prosecutors said.
Prosecutors point to 'cruel' deaths
Beginning in 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 shattered skulls, prosecutors said. He also no longer tried to conceal the bodies.
Pichushkin drew “particular pleasure and satisfaction” from finishing off his victims as they “pleaded for mercy,” Syomin said.
Pichushkin’s first victim was his school friend, whom he strangled in Bittsa Park in 1992 because he refused to join him in killing people.
He began his murderous rampage nine years later, in summer 2001. “It dawned upon me on that day that I would murder someone,” he said during the trial.
He kept count of his victims on a chessboard, with a goal of marking all 64 squares, but he said he came up one victim short.
“For me, a life without murder is like a life without food for you,” he has confessed.
Experts at Russia’s main psychiatric clinic have found Pichushkin sane.
Killer: 'I could not stop myself'
Prosecutors said Monday that Pichushkin had admitted killing one of his last victims in February 2006 to demonstrate that he was still at large following inaccurate reports in Russian newspapers that the Bittsa Maniac had been caught.
Pichushkin was arrested in June 2006 after a woman left a note at home saying that she was going for a walk with him and was then found dead.
Pichushkin said during the trial that he was aware of the note but “I could not stop myself from killing her.”
“I killed so I could live myself: you kill someone and immediately feel relieved, your shoulders straighten up and you want to live,” he said during the trial.
On Wednesday, prosecutors read impeccable references from Pichushkin’s former employers describing him as “disciplined and diligent” and “polite and tactful.”
“Why are you studying me so thoroughly?” Pichushkin remarked to this from his cage.
His lawyer, Pavel Ivannikov, said that despite his seemingly unrepentant and defiant behavior during the trial, Pichushkin “is afraid and wants to wiggle himself out.”
“He wants to convince us that what he was going was right,” Ivannikov told The Associated Press. “He imagined himself to be God. The one who decides who is to live and who is to die.”
Pichushkin was to make his final statement Thursday, after which Judge Vladimir Usov was to set a date for sentencing.