Alex Hribal, the student accused in a stabbing rampage at his Pennsylvania high school, was not considered “a loner or a weirdo,” and his family is baffled about why he might have carried out the attack, his lawyer told NBC News on Thursday.
The lawyer, Patrick Thomassey, said that Hribal was soft-spoken and shy but has no history of mental health problems and has not been in trouble with the law. The teenager does not smoke marijuana or drink, the lawyer said.
“It’s unexplainable at this point,” the lawyer said.
The teenager is accused of moving through the halls and classrooms of Franklin Regional High School in Murrysville, a suburb outside Pittsburgh, on Wednesday and knifing 21 students and a security guard. The knife missed one student’s heart by millimeters.
Thomassey, who spoke with Hribal on Wednesday and spent hours with his family, characterized the parents as closely involved with the teenager. They knew what movies he watched, whom he hung out with and who his friends were, he said.
“The family certainly doesn’t know anything about this. Nothing,” the lawyer said. “They never saw it coming.”
He described Hribal as scared and confused but would not go into further detail about the conversation. Thomassey said that he was seeking a psychiatric evaluation for the teenager.
Hribal, 16, could face an effective life sentence — almost 600 years behind bars — if he is convicted.
The criminal charges against him include attempted homicide and aggravated assault, both felonies, and carrying a prohibited weapon, a misdemeanor. Prosecutors have charged him as an adult.
According to information provided by the Pennsylvania attorney general’s office, those charges add up to a maximum 585 years in prison if Hribal is convicted across the board and the judge chooses to impose the prison terms one after the other.
Pennsylvania has sentencing guidelines that are advisory for judges but not mandatory. Under those guidelines, the penalties for a first-time offender could be significantly reduced.
Thomassey said that he would try to have the case moved to juvenile court. But that is a long shot at best, one legal expert said.
In juvenile court, the harshest penalty would be jail until Hribal turns 21, said Daniel Filler, a professor of law at Drexel University in Philadelphia.
But the judges who make the call in Pennsylvania on moving a case from adult to juvenile court are elected, not appointed, and pressure against a lighter sentence would be immense, Filler said.
“You have to recognize that cases that are so high-profile like this really are driven by the public outcry,” he said. “The politics are all against it. Really against this kid.”
Charging Hribal as an adult was not a discretionary decision for prosecutors, the professor said. For certain serious crimes, Pennsylvania prosecutors are required to charge teenagers 15 to 17 as adults, he said.
— Richard Lui and Ron Allen of NBC News contributed to this report.
First published April 10 2014, 12:31 PM