PITTSBURGH — A teen charged with stabbing 20 fellow students and a security guard at a Pennsylvania high school will be an adult by the time a hearing concludes to determine whether he should be tried in juvenile court.
Alex Hribal, of Murrysville, is charged with attempted homicide and aggravated assault as an adult even though he was just 16 on April 9, 2014. That's when — in what defense psychiatrists say was an effort to emulate the Columbine school massacre — Hribal used two 8-inch kitchen knives to slash his way through the hallways of Franklin Regional High School.
Hribal's attorney has been trying to get a Westmoreland County judge to move the case to juvenile court, where Hribal could face incarceration or probation only until he turns 21.
A hearing on that request began in June and was supposed to continue Monday, but District Attorney John Peck said it's been postponed until Nov. 24 because a prosecution psychiatrist can't testify until then. Hribal turns 18 on Oct. 1.
By the time of his hearing, Hribal will be transferred to the county jail from the juvenile facility where he's been held since his arrest.
"The juvenile detention center is not available to a person who is over 18 and charged as an adult," Peck said Friday.
Defense attorney Patrick Thomassey said he's concerned about Hribal's welfare in the county prison, and even more should he be convicted as an adult and sentenced to decades in prison.
Peck has argued Hribal could be confined at the State Correctional Institution-Pine Grove, which is reserved for younger adult offenders. But Thomassey said in some ways that might be worse because younger convicts sometimes act out more than older offenders to establish a tough prison reputation.
"If he gets into the adult system, he'll be swallowed whole," Thomassey said Friday.
"People talk about Pine Grove like it's some kind of reform school, but it's not," Thomassey said. Hribal, a slightly built teen with no criminal history, "will be in there with all those murderers from Philadelphia."
Thomassey hasn't disputed Hribal's guilt, only where he will most effectively be rehabilitated.
Peck has argued the enormity of the crime means that punishment ending when Hribal turns 21 would be unfair and impractical. Four of Hribal's victims were critically injured and hospitalized for weeks, while the others were terrorized.
St. Vincent College law professor Bruce Antkowiak, a former federal prosecutor and defense attorney, said Hribal's case illustrates a problem when a young person commits a crime so heinous he's charged as an adult: He might benefit more from the kind of treatment juvenile offenders can receive.
Judge Christopher Feliciani must weigh testimony by defense and prosecution psychiatrists who disagree whether Hribal can be effectively helped in an adult prison. Other factors to consider are how effective rehabilitation and psychological counseling is likely to be and how many years of help Hribal needs, Antkowiak said.
"That's what makes these really tough decisions in a lot of cases," he said.