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Hribal pleads not guilty to Franklin Regional stabbings, asks for jury trial

| Wednesday, June 11, 2014, 2:56 p.m.

Alex Hribal has pleaded not guilty to charges that he tried to kill 20 fellow Franklin Regional Senior High School students and a security guard during an April 9 knife rampage at the school — a move one legal expert said possibly could be a step toward establishing an insanity defense.

Hribal, 16, of Murrysville has requested a jury trial, according to court documents.

The teenager is charged as an adult with slashing and stabbing his way down a crowded hallway before he was subdued by a school official. Several of the students were critically wounded.

Westmoreland County prosecutors have charged Hribal with 21 counts each of attempted murder and aggravated assault as well as one charge of possession of a weapon on school property.

These latest developments occurred as Hribal's defense lawyer, Pat Thomassey, filed a one-page document to waive the teen's July 23 appearance for an arraignment or a formal reading of the charges against him. In that document, Hribal entered the not guilty plea.

“There's no sense in him appearing in front of a judge to enter a not guilty plea,” Thomassey said.

Though it is early in the process, Temple University law professor Barbara Lynn Ashcroft said, it is possible that Thomassey may address issues dealing with Hribal's mental health through the courts.

“He has already set the stage for a potential defense of insanity,” Ashcroft said. “(But) I wouldn't say that is the only possibility.”

A search warrant unsealed at the courthouse this week revealed that investigators found a handwritten note in Hribal's school locker, dated three days before the attack, that was titled “RAGNOROK.”

Experts said ragnorok, or ragnarok, refers to a final battle preceding the end of the world in Norse mythology.

In the note, Hribal expressed dissatisfaction with school and society, police said.

Thomassey said on Tuesday that as more information about the case is released, it is apparent that “this young boy was suffering from serious mental health issues.”

“The fact that he is not putting his client through the rigors of a preliminary hearing … it is very possible that he is setting the stage for … some type of a guilty plea … or defense of insanity,” Ashcroft said. This month, Thomassey waived his client's right to a preliminary hearing, a proceeding in which a district judge would have determined whether there is enough evidence for Hribal to stand trial.

Waiving the right to a preliminary hearing could indicate “they may want to be posturing that their client is cooperating,” she said.

Along those lines, Ashcroft said, Thomassey may be anticipating an offer of a plea agreement.

And it may be Thomassey's attempt to show sensitivity by not putting the witnesses and victims through the trauma of testifying, Ashcroft said.

Waivers of arraignment are standard operating procedure in Westmoreland County courts, according to defense attorney Duke George, who is not associated with the Hribal case.

Such a waiver permits the defense to begin crafting its case, George said.

“The only people who do a (court) arraignment are defendants who don't have an attorney,” he said.

Hribal is being held without bail in the Regional Youth Services Center in Hempfield, the county's juvenile detention center.

Rich Cholodofsky is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-830-6293 or rcholodofsky@tribweb.com. Staff writers Paul Peirce and Renatta Signorini contributed to this report.

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