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Man indicted in spa shootings in Georgia seems in court docket

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ATLANTA (AP) – A man accused of killing eight people in massage shops in the Atlanta area, who has already pleaded guilty to four of the murders, appeared briefly in court on Monday, but his indictment appeared in the other four Murder was rescheduled.

Robert Aaron Long, 22, is charged with shooting and injuring four people in a massage shop and a fifth person in Cherokee County on March 16, and then killing four other people in two massage shops in Atlanta. Six of the eight victims killed were women of Asian descent.

Long was due to be tried in the Fulton County Superior Court on Monday on charges of murder, aggravated assault and domestic terrorism in the Atlanta murders. Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis has announced that she will seek the death penalty as well as a sentence increase under Georgia’s new hate crime law. After the judge went through some preliminary questions with Long’s attorneys, the indictment was postponed to September 28th.

Those Killed in Cherokee County: 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.

The murders sparked fear and outrage among Asian Americans who were already nervous about the mounting hostility caused by the coronavirus pandemic. Many were upset by claims that Long was motivated not by racial prejudice but by the shame he felt due to a sex addiction that is not recognized as an official disorder.

Long pleaded guilty to four counts of murder during a hearing in Cherokee County last month, and received four life sentences without parole and an additional 35 years.

Shannon Wallace, District Attorney for Cherokee County, said during the hearing that investigators found no evidence of racial bias in the murders there. Noting the variety of victims, she said Long went through Young’s Asian Massage and “shot everyone he saw.”

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Wallace said if the case got to court she would be ready to petition for the death penalty, arguing that Long was motivated by gender bias. But after talking to victims and relatives of the victims, she agreed to a plea in order to achieve quick justice and avoid lengthy appeals.

In Atlanta, where all four victims were Asian women, Willis said the murders were based on prejudice motivated by the actual or perceived race, national origin, sex, and gender of the four women killed. The charges and rulings seeking the death penalty and an increase in the hate crime act “send a message that everyone within this community is valued,” Willis said as she announced the indictment in May.

Georgia’s new hate crime law does not provide for a stand-alone hate crime. After a person is convicted of an underlying crime, a jury must determine if they were bias motivated, which comes with an additional penalty.

Long said during the Cherokee County hearing that he planned to commit suicide that day and went to the massage shops because he thought the shame he felt for paying for sexual activity would make him do it. But while he was sitting in his car outside the first fun, he decided to kill the people in it.

After shooting five people at that Cherokee County spa, he got in his car and drove about 30 miles south to Atlanta, where he shot three women at the Gold Spa and one woman across the street at the Aromatherapy Spa, police said .

Then he got back in his car and drove south on the interstate, and authorities said he intended to carry out similar attacks in Florida.

But his parents called the police after spotting their son in pictures from a security video posted online by Cherokee County authorities. His parents were already tracking his movements through an application on his phone and the authorities were able to find him.

He was taken into custody in South Georgia and told detectives that he was struggling with pornography and sex and felt tremendously guilty for watching porn or engaging in sexual acts in massage shops, Wallace said during the hearing last month. Long blamed the victims for his inability to control his impulses, Wallace said.