Russia's 'chessboard killer' given life in prison

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MOSCOW, Oct 29 (Reuters) Russia's ''chessboard murderer'' was sentenced to life in prison today for killing 48 people, after the supermarket worker told a court last week he felt like God as he decided whether his victims should live or die.

The sentence was read out by the judge as 33-year-old Alexander Pichushkin stood inside a glass cage in the courtroom with his head bowed, a Reuters reporter in court said.

Asked if he understood, Pichushkin replied: ''I'm not deaf. I understood.'' Pichushkin was given his nickname by the Russian media because he told detectives in a confession that he had hoped to put a coin on every square of a 64-square chessboard for each of his victims.

He is Russia's deadliest serial killer since Andrei Chikatilo, who was convicted in 1992 and executed for killing more than 50 people. Russia is now observing a moratorium on carrying out the death penalty.

About 20 relatives of his victims were in court, most of them elderly women who ignored Pichushkin and listened intently to the judgement, fighting back tears.

However one young woman, who appeared to be in her late 20s, stared directly at Pichushkin with red, tear-stained eyes.

Pichushkin claimed during his trial to have killed 63 people, but prosecutors only charged him with 48 murders and three attempted murders. They say they are investigating the other cases.

Most of his victims were from the margins of society: homeless people, alcoholics and the elderly.

He would often invite his victims to drink vodka with him in a park in southern Moscow. In many cases, he smashed their skulls and threw their unconscious or lifeless bodies into a swift-moving sewage canal.

He killed his first victim, a friend, in 1992, an experience he said was like first love: ''You never forget it.'' He killed an average of one victim a month from 2002 onwards, once taking three lives in 10 days.

During his own testimony, Pichushkin said he felt like a God. ''I took the most valuable thing, human life,'' he said. ''I didn't take anything else of value from them. Money, jewellery, I didn't need it. I felt like God.'' ''I tried to collect their spirits, their souls,'' he said. ''I felt no emotion when I killed them.'' REUTERS SKB RK1739

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