MOSCOW (Reuters) - Alexander Pichushkin, dubbed the "Chessboard Killer" by Russian media, went on trial on Friday accused of murdering 49 people, many of them by smashing their skulls with a hammer.
The 33-year-old former supermarket porter glared at the floor of his glassed-in dock, known as "the aquarium", while prosecutors took two hours to read out details of the charges against him.
Prosecutors described how Pichushkin killed 46 men and three women over 14 years, many with hammer blows to the head, some by throwing them off a balcony, some by drowning in a sewage pit.
They said Pichushkin had confessed to killing as many as 63 people, first luring them into secluded parts of Moscow's sprawling Bittsevsky Park with an invitation to drink vodka in honour of his dead dog.
Pichushkin's lawyer, Pavel Ivannikov, told the court in his opening statement that Pichushkin had already freely admitted his guilt.
Russian media have taken to calling him the "Bittsevsky Maniac" and the "Chessboard Killer" after police found a chessboard in his apartment with 63 of 64 squares -- one for each victim -- covered with a coin.
If convicted, he would be Russia's most prolific serial killer since Andrei Chikatilo, the "Rostov Ripper", who was convicted in 1992 and executed in 1994 for raping, butchering and in some cases cannibalising as many as 52 people.
Pichushkin, wearing a red and blue track suit with the sleeves pushed up over his forearms and with a short growth of beard under his chin, refused to testify at the opening session in Moscow City Court until what he called some "personal issues" had been resolved.
Ivannikov said Pichushkin wanted to transfer out of a holding cell he occupies in closely guarded isolation at Moscow's Butyrka prison to a smaller cell at a jail closer to the court.
"He said it's more comfortable; he's done time there," Ivannikov told reporters after proceedings adjourned for the day.
The trial, by jury, is expected to be lengthy, with testimony scheduled from at least 41 relatives of the alleged victims and another 98 witnesses. Jury trials are rare in Russia, but Pichushkin's request for one was granted.