- Associated Press - Monday, June 20, 2016

GREENSBURG, Pa. (AP) - A teen charged with stabbing 20 students and a security guard at his school will either stand trial or plead guilty Aug. 1, his attorney said after a pretrial conference Monday.

Westmoreland County District Attorney John Peck and the attorney for 18-year-old Alex Hribal met with a judge to hash out the next steps in the case.

Defense attorney Patrick Thomassey acknowledges that Hribal committed the crimes at Franklin Regional High School in Murrysville in April 2014 when he was 16. But he has argued that Hribal’s mental health issues spurred the attacks, which is why he wanted the case in juvenile court, where Hribal would face no sanctions after turning 21. Common Pleas Judge Christopher Feliciani rejected those arguments in May and last week refused to let Thomassey appeal that decision to the state Superior Court.

Thomassey and Peck didn’t immediately return calls from The Associated Press on MOnday, but Peck told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review that he might offer a plea agreement before the August court date.

“We haven’t made an offer yet. I’ll be in touch with all the victims and explain the parameters of a potential sentence,” Peck told the newspaper. “I’ll get their input on what they think a deal should be.”

Peck has repeatedly said he’d like to spare the victims the trauma of testifying as much as possible.

The key to a plea would appear to be the potential sentence offered and whether it takes into account Hribal’s mental health issues.

Authorities said Hribal walked robotically through the halls before classes began, slashing and stabbing 20 students and a security guard with two 8-inch kitchen knives he brought from home on April 9, 2014.

Psychological experts hired by the defense and prosecution have testified Hribal was trying to emulate Columbine school killers Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold.

The two killed 13 people and wounded 24 others before killing themselves at their high school in suburban Denver in 1999. Hribal carried out his attack on Harris’ birthday because school was out on his preferred date, April 20, 2014, the 15th anniversary of the Columbine massacre.

Four of Hribal’s student victims were critically injured, though all survived. Peck noted in arguing against the appeal that Hribal faces a potential maximum of more than 800 years in prison if he’s convicted on every charge.

Hribal is charged with 21 counts each of attempted homicide and aggravated assault, felonies that each carry up to 20 years in prison, plus a school weapons charge.

In Pennsylvania, Hribal could plead guilty but mentally ill. That could result in his being treated in a state hospital until he’s deemed well enough to serve the remainder of his sentence in prison.

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