ATLANTA — Prosecutors in Fulton County are seeking the death penalty against Robert Aaron Long, the suspect in a string of deadly shootings at three Atlanta-area Asian spas in March.
Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis made the announcement at news conference on Tuesday. She also said she would seek hate crime charges in the case, saying the possible enhanced sentence against Long will be the first test for the county of the hate crime law passed by the Georgia Legislature. She added it sends a message that every member within the community is valued.
"I am here with the team that I chose to seek an indictment in this case and move us one step closer to justice," said Willis. "I have put some of the most experienced and best attorneys on this case because it is important to every member of our community."
A Fulton County grand jury 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 Cherokee County in which Xiaojie “Emily” Tan, 49; Daoyou Feng, 44; Delaina Yaun, 33; and Paul Michels, 54, were killed.
Long was charged with murder in both Fulton and Cherokee counties in connection with the killings. In Cherokee County, prosecutors announced Monday a grand jury has also indicted Long on murder and aggravated assault charges.
“The charges in this indictment were determined based on a comprehensive investigation of Robert Aaron Long and the mass shooting that occurred at Youngs Asian Massage in Woodstock. The investigation was conducted by federal and local law enforcement agencies, in conjunction with the Cherokee County District Attorney’s Office,” Cherokee County D.A. Shannon Wallace said in a statement. “Today we have taken another step forward in seeking justice for the victims of this crime and for their family members.”
The Cherokee 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's unclear at this time if Cherokee officials will seek the death penalty as well.
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’s a hate crime, which carries an additional penalty.
Willis’ 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?”
BACKGROUND ON THE SPA SHOOTINGS
Police have said Long shot and killed four people, three of them women and two of Asian descent, at Youngs Asian Massage near Woodstock just before 5 p.m. on March 16. He also shot and wounded a fifth person, investigators said.
He then drove about 30 miles (50 kilometers) 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, police have said. 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 140 miles (225 kilometers) 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. But those statements spurred outrage and widespread skepticism given the locations and that six of the eight victims were women of Asian descent.