Prosecutor to seek death penalty for man charged in Atlanta-area killings

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A man accused of killing eight people, six of them women of Asian descent, in shootings at three Atlanta-area massage businesses was indicted Tuesday on murder charges, and the prosecutor filed notice that she’ll also seek hate crime charges and the death penalty.

A grand jury in Fulton County, Ga., indicted Robert Aaron Long, 22, in the March 16 slayings of Suncha Kim, 69; Soon Chung Park, 74; Hyun Jung Grant, 51; and Yong Ae Yue, 63.

The indictment only covers those four killings that happened at two spas in Atlanta, and not the attack in nearby Cherokee County in which Xiaojie “Emily” Tan, 49; Daoyou Feng, 44; Delaina Yaun, 33; and Paul Michels, 54, were killed.

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis filed notice that she intends to seek hate crime charges and the death penalty against Long, who is white. The hate crime charges are based on actual or perceived race, national origin, sex and gender, according to online records.  

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 was a hate crime, which carries an additional penalty.

Two women prepare to lay flowers bouquets at a makeshift memorial outside of the Gold Spa in Atlanta on March 17. (Alyssa Pointer/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via The Associated Press)

Plan to seek death penalty a shift in strategy

The indictment charges Long with four counts of murder, four counts of felony murder, five counts of assault with a deadly weapon, four counts of possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony and one count of domestic terrorism, according to online records.

It will be up to a separate grand jury in Cherokee County to decide on charges in the the shooting at a spa near suburban Woodstock, Ga.

Willis’s decision to seek the death penalty is a departure from her stance during her campaign to be district attorney last year.

During a candidate forum last year, Willis answered yes when asked: “Will you commit to refuse to seek the death penalty?”

Police allege Long shot and killed four people, three of them women and two of Asian descent, at Youngs Asian Massage near Woodstock on March 16. He is also accused of shooting and wounding a fifth person, investigators said.

This booking photo provided by the Crisp County Sheriff’s Office shows Long on March 16. The prosecutor in the case says she will seek the death penalty. (Crisp County Sheriff’s Office/The Associated Press)

Long’s parents aided in his arrest

Police have alleged Long drove about 50 kilometres south to Atlanta, where he shot and killed three women at Gold Spa before going across the the street to Aromatherapy Spa and fatally shooting another woman. All of the Atlanta victims were women of Asian descent.

After the shootings at the two Atlanta spas, Long got back into his car and headed south on the interstate, police said.

Long’s parents 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. They provided cellphone information that allowed authorities to track their son to rural Crisp County, about 225 kilometres south of Atlanta.

State troopers and sheriff’s deputies spotted his SUV on Interstate 75, and one of them forced Long to spin to a stop by bumping his vehicle. Long then surrendered to authorities.

In an initial interview with investigators, Long claimed to have a “sex addiction,” and authorities said he apparently lashed out at businesses he viewed as a temptation. Those statements spurred outrage and widespread skepticism given the locations and that six of the eight victims were women of Asian descent.



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