Georgia man gets life in prison after pleading guilty to 4 murders in Atlanta-area spa shootings
Defendant still faces death penalty in upcoming trial for killing 4 others
A man accused of killing eight people, mostly women of Asian descent, at Atlanta-area massage businesses pleaded guilty to murder Tuesday in four of the killings and was sentenced to spend the rest of his life in prison.
Robert Aaron Long, 22, still faces the death penalty in the other deaths, which are being prosecuted in another county, where he faces charges of domestic terrorism with a hate crime enhancement in addition to murder.
Those killed at a spa in Cherokee County were: Xiaojie (Emily) Tan, 49; Daoyou Feng, 44; Delaina Yaun, 33; and Paul Michels, 54. The victims killed in Atlanta were: Suncha Kim, 69; Soon Chung Park, 74; Hyun Jung Grant, 51; and Yong Ae Yue, 63.
His shooting spree in March raised fears and tension among Asian Americans.
At Tuesday's sentencing, a prosecutor said Cherokee County investigators saw no evidence of racial bias. That's at odds with the hate crime and domestic terrorism prosecution Long faces in Atlanta.
Long walked through the massage business in Woodstock, Ga., "shooting anyone and everyone he saw," District Attorney Shannon Wallace said.
But the prosecutor said he was motivated by a sex addiction and his desire to eliminate sources of his temptation, not by any hate against Asians or women.
"All of the evidence that was gathered with regard to Cherokee County, your honour, came to the same conclusion, that this crime was not motivated by a bias or hate against Asian Americans. As for gender bias, Wallace said a charge based on hatred of women would not have extended his sentence.
"This was not any kind of hate crime," she said.
Relatives of victims support guilty plea
Wallace said they had planned to seek the death penalty if Long didn't plead guilty. All the relatives of the victims that they've been able to contact are supporting the plea deal in the interests of swift justice, she said.
The prosecutor said the 22-year-old has signed a plea deal admitting to all of the charges in Cherokee County, where he was accused of malice murder, felony murder, attempt to commit murder and aggravated assault.
Police have said the attacks began when Long shot and killed four people, three of them women and two of Asian descent, at Youngs Asian Massage just before 5 p.m. on March 16, 2020. He also shot and wounded a fifth person, they said.
Long then drove south to Atlanta, where he shot and killed three women at Gold Spa before going across the street to Aromatherapy Spa and fatally shooting another woman, police have said. All of the Atlanta victims were women of Asian descent.
Debate over hate crime charge
Long is scheduled to appear again next month in Fulton County, where District Attorney Fani Willis filed notice that she intends to seek a hate crime sentence enhancement along with the death penalty, based on the actual or perceived race, national origin, sex and gender of the four women killed in Atlanta.
Georgia's new hate crimes law does not provide for a stand-alone hate crime. After a person is convicted of an underlying crime, a jury must determine whether it's motivated by bias, which carries an additional penalty.
The 19-count Fulton County indictment includes charges of murder, felony murder, aggravated assault and domestic terrorism.
Police said that after the shootings at the two Atlanta spas, the shooter got back into his car and headed south.
By then, his parents had called authorities to help after recognizing their son in still images from security video that the Cherokee County Sheriff's Office posted on social media.
His parents were already tracking his movements through an application on his phone, the prosecutor said, and that enabled authorities to track him down Interstate 75.
State troopers and sheriff's deputies spotted his SUV, and one of them forced Long to spin to a stop by bumping his vehicle. He then surrendered to authorities in rural Crisp County, about 225 kilometres south of Atlanta.
The shooter told police his attack was not racially motivated, and a Cherokee sheriff's spokesperson said it did not appear to be a hate crime, prompting widespread skepticism and outrage.
Cherokee sheriff's Capt. Jay Baker also drew criticism for saying at a news conference that Long had "a really bad day," and was removed from the case.