Atlanta spa-shooting suspect to enter plea in 4 killings

Georgia News

Robert Aaron Long appears in front of Fulton County Superior Court Judge Ural Glanville at the Fulton County Courthouse in downtown Atlanta, Monday, Aug. 30, 2021. The man accused of killing eight people at Atlanta area massage businesses who has already pleaded guilty in four of the killings appeared briefly in court but his arraignment in the other four slayings was rescheduled. (Alyssa Pointer/Atlanta Journal Constitution via AP)

ATLANTA (AP) — A man already sentenced to life in prison after pleading guilty to fatally shooting four people at a massage business outside Atlanta is set to enter a plea to shooting four others on the same day at two spas inside the city.

Robert Aaron Long, 22, is scheduled to appear Tuesday in Fulton County Superior Court, where he will enter a plea on charges including murder, aggravated assault and domestic terrorism. District Attorney Fani Willis is seeking the death penalty, as well as a sentencing enhancement under Georgia’s new hate crimes law.

In July, Long pleaded guilty in Cherokee County to charges including four counts of murder. He received four sentences of life without parole plus an additional 35 years.

Those killed in Cherokee County were: Paul Michels, 54; Xiaojie “Emily” Tan, 49; Daoyou Feng, 44; and Delaina Yaun, 33. The Atlanta victims were: Suncha Kim, 69; Soon Chung Park, 74; Hyun Jung Grant, 51; and Yong Ae Yue, 63.

Tuesday will be the second time Long appears before Fulton County Superior Court Judge Ural Glanville. During a brief appearance last month, Glanville asked Long’s defense attorneys — court-appointed lawyers from the Georgia capital defender’s office — about their qualifications to handle a death penalty case and went through a checklist specific to capital cases.

When the killings happened in March, Asian Americans were already experiencing an uptick in hostility related to the coronavirus pandemic. The fact that a majority of the slain victims were women of Asian descent exacerbated existing feelings of fear and anger. Many have been upset by Long’s assertions that he was motivated by the shame he felt from sexual urges, rather than by racial bias.

Cherokee County District Attorney Shannon Wallace said during the hearing in July that investigators found no evidence of racial bias motivating the killings. She said that had that case gone to trial, she was prepared to seek the death penalty and would have argued Long was motivated by gender bias.

Willis, the Fulton County district attorney, said last month that she believes race and gender played a role in Long’s motivation. Georgia’s 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 was motivated by bias, which carries an additional penalty.

After shooting five people at Youngs Asian Massage in Cherokee County, Long drove about 30 miles (48 kilometers) south to Atlanta, where he shot three women at Gold Spa and one woman across the street at Aromatherapy Spa, police have said.

He then headed south on the interstate, and authorities have said he intended to carry out similar attacks in Florida.

But his parents had called police after recognizing their son in images from security video posted online by authorities in Cherokee County. His parents were already tracking his movements through an application on his phone, which allowed authorities to find him and take him into custody on a south Georgia interstate.

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