Man sentenced to life after admitting four massage parlour killings

Man sentenced to life after admitting four massage parlour killings
Robert Aaron Long sits in Superior Court of Cherokee County in Canton, Ga., on Tuesday morning, July 27, 2021, before pleading guilty to murder. Long, accused of killing eight people, most of them women of Asian descent, at Atlanta-area massage businesses pleaded guilty to four of the murders. He was handed four sentences of life without parole. (Ben Gray/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP, Pool)

A man accused of killing eight people, most of them women of Asian descent, at massage parlours in the US state of Georgia has admitted four murders and was handed four sentences of life without parole.

Robert Aaron Long, 22, still faces the death penalty in the four other deaths, which are being prosecuted in a different county in the Atlanta area.

His shooting spree at three businesses in March fuelled fear among Asian Americans, who were already facing increased hostility at the time linked to the coronavirus pandemic.

Many were particularly upset when authorities suggested Long’s crimes were not racially motivated but were born of a “sex addiction”, which is not recognized as an official disorder.

Friends and families of the victims listen during the plea hearing (Ben Gray/Atlanta Journal-Constitution/AP)

A prosecutor reiterated on Tuesday that Cherokee County investigators saw no evidence of racial bias. That is at odds with the hate crime enhancement that Long, who is white, faces a few miles away for the four deaths in Atlanta.

“This was not any kind of hate crime,” district attorney Shannon Wallace said.

On March 16, Long shot and killed four people, three of them women and two of Asian descent, at Youngs Asian Massage in Cherokee County, according to police accounts. A fifth person was wounded.

Long then drove 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, police said. All of the Atlanta victims were of Asian descent.

In Atlanta, Long could be sentenced to death if convicted for the four deaths. He also faces charges of domestic terrorism in addition to murder, and prosecutors have said they will seek to have the deaths classified as a hate crime.

District attorney Shannon Wallace (Ben Gray/Atlanta Journal-Constitution/AP)

Ms Wallace said Cherokee County prosecutors came to a different conclusion. Long walked through the first spa “shooting anyone and everyone he saw”, and Ms Wallace said he was motivated by a desire to eliminate sources of temptation at businesses where he engaged in sex acts.

As for gender bias, Ms Wallace said adding hatred of women as an aggravating factor would not have significantly extended his sentence.

She said prosecutors had planned to seek the death penalty if Long did not plead guilty. All the relatives of the victims that officials have been able to contact supported the plea deal in the interest of swift justice, she added.

The prosecutor said the defendant signed a plea deal admitting all of the charges in Cherokee County, where he was accused of malice murder, felony murder, attempt to commit murder and aggravated assault.

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

Robert Aaron Long’s mugshot (Crisp County Sheriff’s Office/AP)

Long said he had planned to kill himself that day and went to the massage businesses thinking that paying for sex — which he considered hateful — would push him to do it.

“I was scared of killing myself and wanted to try to overcome that so I could,” he told Cherokee County Superior Court Chief Judge Ellen McElyea on Tuesday.

But at some point while sitting in his car outside the first spa, he decided to kill the people inside.

He said he was driven by a desire to “punish” the people who worked there.

Long is scheduled to appear again next month in Fulton County, where district attorney Fani Willis filed notice that she intends to seek what is called a hate crime sentence enhancement.

The 19-count Fulton County indictment includes charges of murder, felony murder, aggravated assault and domestic terrorism.

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