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School stabbings suspect wants case moved to juvenile court or another county due to publicity

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PITTSBURGH — The attorney for a 17-year-old boy charged with stabbing 20 fellow students and a security guard during a rampage at his western Pennsylvania high school has asked a judge to move the case to juvenile court or, failing that, to another county so potential jurors won't be influenced by heavy media coverage.

Defense attorney Patrick Thomassey wrote in Friday's motions that Alex Hribal, of Murrysville, is more likely to be successfully rehabilitated if the case is moved to juvenile court, where he could be incarcerated only until he's 21.

Hribal is charged as an adult in Westmoreland County Common Pleas Court, where he faces potentially decades in prison if he's convicted of 21 counts each of attempted homicide and aggravated assault for the April 9 attacks at Franklin Regional High School, about 15 miles east of Pittsburgh.

If the case isn't moved to juvenile court, Thomassey claims an impartial jury will be difficult to select due to heavy — and "prejudicial" — media coverage.

"The coverage has been prejudicial to Hribal because it has painted him with a broad brush comparing him to the Columbine Shooting defendants and other notorious actors who chose to commit violent acts at schools," Thomassey wrote.

That's true — but largely because Thomassey's defense psychologist testified at a hearing on Hribal's mental health in September that Hribal was inspired by the Columbine shootings and planned his attack for April 20 because that would have been the 15th anniversary of the Columbine massacre.

Hribal instead brought two 8-inch kitchen knives to school and indiscriminately slashed and stabbed his way through hallways before classes on April 9 — the birthday of Eric Harris, one of the Columbine shooters. Hribal couldn't attack on April 20 because school was out that day, defense psychologist Bruce Chambers testified.

Thomassey acknowledges Hribal committed the attack, but contends he was seriously mentally ill and would be better served getting treatment, which he said would be more effective and intense in a juvenile facility than a state prison. Under Pennsylvania law, Thomassey must convince a judge that juvenile court is more suited to helping Hribal, otherwise he'll be prosecuted as an adult.

District Attorney John Peck said he doubts the publicity — even involving the Columbine angle — would make it necessary to move the case to another county. He noted that six people were tried in the torture murder of a mentally disabled woman in February 2010 — including two sentenced to death — without a change of venue in a case that Peck said drew more media coverage than Hribal's.

As to the Columbine angle itself, Peck said, "It was brought into the case legitimately because it was referenced" in the defense psychologist's testimony.

Peck said he generally opposes moving the case to juvenile court, but wouldn't comment further because Thomassey made no specific arguments to which Peck could respond.

A judge did not immediately schedule hearings on Thomassey's motions.

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