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Robert Aaron Long pleads guilty to Asian spa killings, sentenced to life

Robert Aaron Long enters Superior Court of Cherokee County in Canton on Tuesday morning, July 27, 2021, for his plea hearing in the spa shootings. Ben Gray for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

CANTON, Ga. (AP) — A man accused of killing eight people, most of them women of Asian descent, at Atlanta-area massage businesses pleaded guilty to murder Tuesday in four of the killings 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. The string of shootings at three different businesses in March ignited outrage and fueled fear among Asian Americans.

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 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 in the four deaths. There, he also faces charges of aggravated assault and domestic terrorism in addition to murder, and prosecutors have said they will seek to have the deaths classified as a hate crime.

Reached by phone, Michael Webb, the ex-husband of victim Xiaojie “Emily” Tan, said the family was “very satisfied” with the plea.

Bonnie Michels, whose husband of 24 years, Paul, was the first person killed, told the judge about the hole in her life left by his death.

“A part of me died with him that day,” she said. “I am shattered.”

Elcias Rocendo Hernandez Ortiz, who was shot in the face, also addressed the court, speaking in Spanish. He said it has been very hard for his family, and he feels for the relatives of those who died.

“Honestly, this man, why didn’t he think before killing so many people? I only want justice,” he said through a translator.

The prosecutor said the defendant signed a plea agreement admitting to all charges in Cherokee County, where he was accused of malice murder, felony murder, attempt to commit murder and aggravated assault. Cherokee County Superior Court Chief Judge Ellen McElyea accepted the agreement, handing him four sentences of life without parole plus an additional 35 years.

Those killed at the Cherokee County spa were: Tan, 49; Michels, 54; 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.

Long said he had planned to kill himself that day and went to the massage businesses thinking that paying for sex — which he considered wrong — would push him to do it. But at some point while sitting in his car outside the first spa, he decided to kill the people inside.

After he was apprehended in south Georgia, Long told detectives of his struggles with pornography and sex. He believed he was an addict, and felt tremendous guilt and shame when he viewed porn or engaged in sexual acts at massage businesses, Wallace said.

Long 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, as well as the death penalty.

From The Associated Press. May not be republished.

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