The suspect, Robert Aaron Long, also faces four murder charges in a neighboring county, where the prosecutor is seeking the death penalty.,
Guilty Plea in 4 Atlanta-Area Spa Killings
The suspect, Robert Aaron Long, also faces four murder charges in a neighboring county, where the prosecutor is seeking the death penalty.
Robert Aaron Long pleaded guilty on Tuesday to four killings at Young’s Asian Massage in Cherokee County, an Atlanta suburb. Credit…Chang W. Lee/The New York Times
CANTON, Ga. — The man accused of killing eight people at a string of Atlanta-area spas pleaded guilty on Tuesday to four counts of murder in suburban Cherokee County and will face four consecutive life sentences without the possibility of parole plus 35 years in prison. But the man, Robert Aaron Long, still faces four other murder charges in nearby Fulton County, where the prosecutor is seeking the death penalty.
Mr. Long arrived in court through a side entrance just after 9:15 a.m. in a white dress shirt. He was clean shaven and wore glasses, with his hair shaved at the sides and long at the top.
He stood before the judge and quietly answered, “Yes, ma’am,” when a prosecutor asked him if he understood the terms of the plea agreement.
The March 16 shooting spree set off a nationwide wave of concern over racially motivated attacks on Asian people at a time of broader anxiety and anger over racism in the United States. Six of the eight victims were women of Asian descent. Fani T. Willis, the Fulton County district attorney, has indicated in court filings that she also intends to seek enhanced penalties against Mr. Long, who is white, for committing crimes because of the “actual or perceived race, national origin, sex and gender” of the victims.
Mr. Long, who law enforcement officials say has admitted he was the gunman, had not made a court appearance since he was arrested a few hours after the shootings at three spas. He was identified that evening by a state trooper while driving in an S.U.V. on Interstate 75, about 150 miles south of Atlanta.
A Rise in Anti-Asian Attacks
A torrent of hate and violence against people of Asian descent around the United States began last spring, in the early days of the coronavirus pandemic.
Background: Community leaders say the bigotry was fueled by President Donald J. Trump, who frequently used racist language like “Chinese virus” to refer to the coronavirus.Data: The New York Times, using media reports from across the country to capture a sense of the rising tide of anti-Asian bias, found more than 110 episodes since March 2020 in which there was clear evidence of race-based hate.Underreported Hate Crimes: The tally may be only a sliver of the violence and harassment given the general undercounting of hate crimes, but the broad survey captures the episodes of violence across the country that grew in number amid Mr. Trump’s comments.In New York: A wave of xenophobia and violence has been compounded by the economic fallout of the pandemic, which has dealt a severe blow to New York’s Asian-American communities. Many community leaders say racist assaults are being overlooked by the authorities.What Happened in Atlanta: Eight people, including six women of Asian descent, were killed in shootings at massage parlors in Atlanta on March 16. A Georgia prosecutor said that the Atlanta-area spa shootings were hate crimes, and that she would pursue the death penalty against the suspect, who has been charged with murder.
Law enforcement officials later said that Mr. Long had told them he was on his way to Florida to carry out another attack on a business tied to the pornography industry.
The police have also said that Mr. Long told them that he had a sexual addiction, and that the shootings were an effort to eliminate such temptations from his life. Officials and acquaintances have said that Mr. Long, who was raised in a strict evangelical Christian environment, frequented massage parlors and had previously sought out Christian counseling in an effort to rein in his impulses.
Prosecutors say the shooting rampage began at Young’s Asian Massage, a strip-mall business in Cherokee County, northwest of Atlanta. One person was injured there and four were killed: Xiaojie Tan, 49; Daoyou Feng, 44; Paul Andre Michels, 54; and Delaina Ashley Yaun, 33. The gunman then drove to the heart of Atlanta, in Fulton County, where he fatally shot four women of South Korean descent at two other spas: Soon Chung Park, 74; Suncha Kim, 69; Yong Ae Yue, 63; and Hyun Jung Grant, 51.
In May, Mr. Long was indicted by a Cherokee County grand jury on 23 counts, including multiple counts of aggravated assault. In Fulton County, he faces 19 counts for crimes including domestic terrorism.
Tuesday’s arraignment marked the beginning of what could be a protracted legal drama even though many of the basic facts of the slayings do not appear to be in dispute. With the death penalty looming as a possibility in Fulton County, Mr. Long and his lawyers may choose to go to trial, perhaps mounting an insanity defense. With Covid-related backlogs and other delays, a Fulton County trial might not start until 2024, an official in Ms. Willis’s office said.
Ms. Willis, a Democrat, is a seasoned prosecutor who became district attorney in January. Like many big-city American prosecutors, she is being forced to confront a recent uptick in violent crime. Her office has also launched an inquiry into former President Donald J. Trump’s attempts to overturn Georgia’s election results.
As a candidate for office, Ms. Willis said she could not foresee a case in which she would seek the death penalty. But she decided to do so in this case, she has said, after reviewing the evidence and meeting with the families of the victims. In a court document, she described the shooting spree as “outrageously or wantonly vile, horrible or inhuman in that it involved depravity of mind.”
In a brief telephone interview last week, Ms. Willis said that while she tended to keep an “open mind” concerning plea bargains, she was, for now, continuing to handle Mr. Long’s case as a capital one.