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'Maniac' on trial for 49 murders

  • Story Highlights
  • Alexander Pichushkin confesses to most of the murders, unclear how many
  • Jury must decide whether 33-year-old supermarket worker is of sound mind
  • Killer lured victims by inviting them to drink vodka, then hammering them to death
  • If convicted Pichushkin would be Russia's most deadly serial killer since 1992
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MOSCOW, Russia (Reuters) -- A Moscow court began trying a supermarket worker who prosecutors say murdered 49 people over a 14-year period, which would make him Russia's worst serial killer in a decade.

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Pichushkin is accused of luring victims to his flat before smashing them to death with a hammer.

His lawyer said 33-year-old Alexander Pichushkin had confessed to most of the murders, but it was unclear how many. The jury must decide whether or not he is of sound mind.

"My client understands that he is to blame for most of these murders," Pichushkin's lawyer, Pavel Ivannikov, told reporters outside the courtroom after a fifteen-minute hearing.

Pichushkin scowled as he was brought into Moscow City Court under heavy guard for a preliminary hearing at which he opted to be tried by a jury, instead of a panel of judges.

If convicted, Pichushkin -- called the "Bitsevsky Maniac" by Russian media after the Moscow park where many of the alleged victims were killed -- would be Russia's most deadly serial killer since Andrei Chikatilo, convicted in 1992 of 52 murders.

Prosecutors say Pichushkin befriended many of his victims in Bitsevsky park by inviting them to drink vodka with him, then bludgeoned them to death with a hammer. Some of the victims had fragments of glass pressed into their skulls.

Prosecutors also say Pichushkin confessed to the murders in police custody. Russian media reported that for every person he killed, he placed a coin on a chess board and that he had been planning to cover all 64 squares on the board.

The trial was adjourned until September 13 to allow time for a jury to be selected. It is expected to be lengthy, as it will hear from at least 41 relatives of the alleged victims and a total of 98 other witnesses.

During the hearing, relatives of two of the alleged victims sat just meters from Pichushkin. The accused occasionally stretched his arms and stared out from the glass enclosure where he was held, without displaying any emotion.

In a red and white checked shirt and jeans, he looked older than his age, with gray peppering his dark hair. Speaking quietly before the hearing, one middle aged man, Alexander Fyodorov, recalled his family's efforts to track down his missing brother, who would be 47 this year.

"I want Pichushkin to sit in prison for the rest of his life," he said. Although Russia has not formally abolished the death penalty, it has been observing a moratorium on capital punishment.

Another elderly woman who was also in the court, Tamara Klimova, came home from holiday to discover her husband was missing. The body was not found for five years. Prosecutors now believe he was killed by Pichushkin.

"I would like him to be handed over to the people so that they can tear him apart," Klimova told reporters. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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