'Mad chess player' in court
Moscow - Jury selection took place Thursday in the Moscow trial of a man accused of murdering 49 people, most of them in a public park where he reportedly hoped to kill one person for every square on a chessboard.
Alexander Pichushkin, 33, is alleged to have committed his first murder as a student in 1992 and to have stepped up his project in 2001, bludgeoning many of his victims to death with a hammer.
Nicknamed the "Bitsevsky maniac", after the sprawling Moscow park where the murders were committed, and "the mad chess player", Pichushkin is being tried for 49 murders, although investigators said earlier there was proof he had killed 62 people.
He told investigators he had planned to kill 64 people, one for each square on a chessboard.
'... Fully admits his guilt'
Investigators said that Pichushkin aimed to exceed the number of victims killed by the infamous Soviet-era serial killer Andrei Chikatilo, who was convicted in 1992 of murdering 52 people.
At Thursday's session at Moscow city court the defendant rejected one lawyer allocated to him on the grounds that he was "on the side of the prosecutors", the RIA Novosti news agency reported.
Another lawyer for Pichushkin, Pavel Ivannikov, told Interfax that his client "fully admits his guilt".
Investigators said earlier that most of Pichushkin's victims were elderly alcoholic men whom he invited to join him for a drink on various pretexts, such as that he was mourning the death of his dog.
Asked for open court
Three women were also among the victims. The killing of the third woman, a shop assistant who had worked with Pichushkin, led police to identify their suspect, as she left a note for her son with his phone number before she went on a walk with him.
On Thursday judge Andrei Zubaryov said Pichushkin had himself asked that the case be heard in open court, under the full glare of the Russian media.
Television footage taken after his arrest in June last year showed the defendant declaring in a monotone: "I never would have stopped, never. They've saved many people by catching me."