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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Bittsevsky Maniac Guilty in 48 Deaths

A Moscow jury found Alexander Pichushkin, the so-called Bittsevsky Maniac, guilty of 48 murders Wednesday in the trial of the country's most-prolific known serial killer in more than a decade.

Prosecutors also made the stunning admission that authorities missed a chance to stop Pichushkin's rampage in 2002, when a police officer ignored the story of a woman who survived one of his attacks. That officer is now under investigation.

Pichushkin, 33, listened carefully from his defendant's cage at the Moscow City Court and occasionally grinned as the jury's foreman read the verdict in a courtroom packed with journalists and relatives of the victims.

"Thank God," an elderly woman whispered as the verdict was read.

The jury deliberated for less than three hours before reaching its unanimous decision. It also found Pichushkin guilty on three counts of attempted murder and recommended no leniency in his sentencing. Russia currently has a moratorium on the death penalty, meaning he faces a maximum penalty of life in prison.

Prosecutors asked the judge to sentence Pichushkin to life in prison with mandatory psychiatric treatment and requested that he spend his first 15 years in a regular prison, where he may be kept with other inmates.

Defense lawyer Pavel Ivannikov asked for leniency for his client and said Pichushkin should be kept isolated from other prisoners, noting that he had no criminal record prior to the killings.

Pichushkin could be sentenced as early as Thursday, when he will be allowed a final statement.

Pichushkin earned his nickname by committing most of the murders in the sprawling Bittsevsky Park in southwest Moscow from 2001 to 2006. Over the course of the five-week trial, he boasted that he committed 63 murders in an attempt to kill one person for each square on a chessboard, but prosecutors only found evidence for 48 killings.

Prosecutor Yury Syomin told reporters Wednesday that investigators would look into the remaining murders that Pichushkin had described.

Investigators say Pichushkin sought to outdo Andrei Chikatilo, the notorious serial killer who was convicted in 1992 of murdering 52 women and children, dismembering them and eating some of their remains.

Pichushkin's killing spree began when he was 18 with the murder of a classmate, Mikhail Odeichuk, in 1992. In court, Pichushkin confessed that he lured Odeichuk into a secluded part of the forest, strangled him with a rope and tossed his body into a sewer. Odeichuk's relatives did not learn how he had died for another 14 years.

"A first killing is like your first love," he said in court. "You never forget it."

Earlier reports said Pichushkin pushed Odeichuk out the window of an apartment building.

In 2001, Pichushkin started killing again after a break of nearly a decade. He usually met lonely men near Kakhovskaya metro station, offered them a shot of vodka or beer to commemorate the death of his dog, and invited them for a walk into the wooded park to visit the dog's grave.

"I liked to talk to these people for an hour or two because it was interesting to talk to those destined to die," he said during the trial.

The walk usually ended when Pichushkin bludgeoned his victim to death with a hammer. Other times he simply tossed his victim into a sewer after getting them drunk.

Pichushkin often kept the cap from the bottle of Coca-Cola or Sprite he had shared with the victim as a souvenir. He also recorded each killing on the square of a chessboard, which police found in his apartment after his arrest in June 2006.

Tragically, police missed a chance to stop Pichushkin at the height of his rampage, prosecutor Maria Semenenko said Wednesday.

In February 2002, he threw a young woman, Maria Viricheva, into a sewer and left her for dead. Viricheva managed to escape and tell a police officer, whom Semenenko only identified by his last name, Kalashnikov.

Kalashnikov forced Viricheva to retract her story, Semenenko said.

Prosecutors have opened a criminal investigation into Kalashnikov, she said.

Pichushkin's trial featured the testimony of dozens of relatives of his victims, some of whom verbally clashed with him in court. One of them was Svetlana Shamayeva, the sister of Yegor Kudryavtsev, an old childhood playmate of Pichushkin's who was killed on Aug. 30, 2003.

"Just tell me, why did you choose Yegor, what evil did he do to you?" Shamayeva asked Pichushkin, fighting back tears.

"Nothing," the killer replied calmly. "He just was my friend, and that was the reason."

Many of Pichushkin's victims were people he knew. Two of them, Larisa Kulygina and Marina Moskalyova, were his co-workers at a Grossmart supermarket on Ulitsa Khersonskaya.

Moskalyova, 36, was Pichushkin's last victim. Her body was discovered in the park on June 14, 2006.

Prosecutors said it was two small pieces of paper that led investigators to Pichushkin. A metro ticket found in Moskalyova's coat pocket helped investigators establish the date and time she rode the train, and video surveillance footage showed Pichushkin walking with her, they said.

The second piece of paper was a note Moskalyova had left for her teenage son that he showed police the day her body was found, prosecutors said. Moskalyova wrote on the piece of paper that she had gone for a walk with Pichushkin and jotted down his cell phone number.

Pichushkin, who was arrested two days after Moskalyova's body was found, also kept a list of names of potential victims, all drawn from his friends and acquaintances, prosecutors said.

"Were you intending to kill everyone you knew?" Semenenko asked Pichushkin in court after he confessed to Kulygina's and Moskalyova's killings.

After a pause, Pichushkin replied that when he failed to arrange a meeting with a friend, he went "hunting" on the street. He could rove around for hours, searching for people who seemed idle and open to talking. With one of his victims, 56-year-old philologist Stepan Vasilchenko, he discussed books and literature.

"I could be the most friendly and interested listener for my victim," he said. "I could talk to anybody about anything."