Man sentenced to life in Asian spa killings

  • Robert Aaron Long enters Superior Court of Cherokee County in Canton, Ga. on Tuesday, July 27, 2021. Long, accused of killing eight people, most of them women of Asian descent at an Atlanta-area massage businesses pleaded guilty to four of the murders and was handed four sentences of life without parole. (Ben Gray/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP, Pool) BEN@BENGRAY.COM

  • 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) BEN@BENGRAY.COM

  • Robert Aaron Long sits among his lawyers in Superior Court of Cherokee County in Canton, Ga. on Tuesday, July 27, 2021. The man 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. Robert Aaron Long still faces the death penalty in the four other deaths, which are being prosecuted in a different county. (Ben Gray/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via... BEN@BENGRAY.COM

  • Judge Ellen McElyea listens during the plea hearing for spa shooting suspect Robert Aaron Long in Superior Court of Cherokee County in Canton, Ga. on Tuesday, July 27, 2021. The man 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. Robert Aaron Long still faces the death penalty in the four other deaths, which are being prosecuted in a... BEN@BENGRAY.COM

  • Robert Aaron Long stands before Judge Ellen McElyea in Superior Court of Cherokee County in Canton, Ga. on Tuesday, July 27, 2021. The man 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. Robert Aaron Long still faces the death penalty in the four other deaths, which are being prosecuted in a different county. (Ben Gray/Atlanta... BEN@BENGRAY.COM

  • Friends and families of the victims listen during the plea hearing for spa shooting suspect Robert Aaron Long in Superior Court of Cherokee County in Canton, Ga. on Tuesday, July 27, 2021. The man 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. Robert Aaron Long still faces the death penalty in the four other deaths, which are being... BEN@BENGRAY.COM

  • FILE - This March 16, 2021, booking photo provided by the Crisp County, Ga., Sheriff's Office shows Robert Aaron Long. A man accused of killing eight people at three Atlanta-area massage businesses pleaded guilty in Cherokee County on Tuesday, July 27, 2021, hoping for a sentence of life without parole to the first four of the shooting deaths. Robert Aaron Long faces still faces the death penalty if convicted in four more shooting deaths in Atlanta, where he faces charges of domestic...

  • Robert Aaron Long has his hands shackled to his waist as he stands before Judge Ellen McElyea in Superior Court of Cherokee County in Canton, Ga. on Tuesday, July 27, 2021. The man 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. Robert Aaron Long still faces the death penalty in the four other deaths, which are being prosecuted in a... BEN@BENGRAY.COM

  • Judge Ellen McElyea presides during the plea hearing for spa shooting suspect Robert Aaron Long in Superior Court of Cherokee County in Canton, Ga. on Tuesday, July 27, 2021. 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) BEN@BENGRAY.COM

  • Defendant Robert Aaron Long stands before Judge Ellen McElyea during a plea hearing in Superior Court of Cherokee County in Canton, Ga., Tuesday, July 27, 2021. 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) BEN@BENGRAY.COM

  • District Attorney Shannon Wallace speaks during the plea hearing for Robert Aaron Long in Superior Court of Cherokee County in Canton, Ga., on Tuesday, July 27, 2021. 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) BEN@BENGRAY.COM

  • A heavy police presence stands in Superior Court of Cherokee County in Canton, Ga., on Tuesday, July 27, 2021, during Robert Aaron Long's plea hearing. 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) BEN@BENGRAY.COM

  • Bonnie Michels, wife of shooting victim Paul Michels, gives an impact statement during the plea hearing for Robert Aaron Long in Superior Court of Cherokee County in Canton, Ga., on Tuesday, July 27, 2021. 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) BEN@BENGRAY.COM

  • Elcias Rocendo Hernandez Ortiz, who was shot it the face during the spa shootings, gives an impact statement during the plea hearing for Robert Aaron Long in Superior Court of Cherokee County in Canton, Ga. on Tuesday, July 27, 2021. The man 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. Robert Aaron Long still faces the death penalty in... BEN@BENGRAY.COM

  • A tear rolls down the cheek of a woman sitting with the friends and family of victims during the plea hearing for spa shooting suspect Robert Aaron Long in Superior Court of Cherokee County in Canton, Ga. on Tuesday, July 27, 2021. The man 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. Robert Aaron Long still faces the death penalty in the... BEN@BENGRAY.COM

  • Robert Aaron Long finalizes his plea before Judge Ellen McElyea in Superior Court of Cherokee County in Canton, Ga. on Tuesday, July 27, 2021. The man 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. Robert Aaron Long still faces the death penalty in the four other deaths, which are being prosecuted in a different county. (Ben Gray/Atlanta... BEN@BENGRAY.COM

Associated Press
Published: 7/27/2021 8:57:17 PM

CANTON, Ga. — A man accused of killing eight people, mostly women of Asian descent, at Atlanta-area massage businesses pleaded guilty to murder Tuesday in four of the killings and was sentenced to spend the rest of his life in prison.

Robert Aaron Long, 22, still faces the death penalty in the other deaths, which are being prosecuted in another county. The string of shootings at three businesses in Marchignited outrage and fueled fear among Asian Americans, who already faced increased hostility linked to the coronavirus pandemic. Many were particularly upset when authorities suggested Long’s crimes weren’t racially motivated but born of a sex addiction, which isn’t recognized as an official disorder.

A prosecutor reiterated Tuesday that Cherokee County investigators saw no evidence of racial bias.

“This was not any kind of hate crime,” District Attorney Shannon Wallace said during a hearing.

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. A fifth person was wounded. Long then drove to Atlanta, where he shot and killed three women at Gold Spa before crossing the street to Aromatherapy Spa and killing another woman, police said. All of the Atlanta victims were of Asian descent.

In Atlanta, Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis has said she intends to seek the death penalty. There, Long faces charges of aggravated assault and domestic terrorism in addition to murder.

Wallace explained that investigators in Cherokee County didn’t find evidence of bias based on race or ethnicity. Long walked through the first spa “shooting anyone and everyone he saw,” and told detectives he was motivated by a “sex addiction.”

Investigators interviewed people who’d known him for years, including three of Asian descent, who said they’d never heard him make racist comments, Wallace said. Her team also considered the diversity of the Cherokee County victims, who included a Hispanic man and a white man and woman.

Asian American community leaders said Tuesday they were concerned that the shootings continue to be blamed on a sex addiction. Long’s crimes were “intended to target Asian people, specifically Asian women,” said state Rep. Bee Nguyen, the first Vietnamese American to serve in the Georgia House and a frequent advocate for women and communities of color.

Wallace said she would have argued at trial that Long was motivated by gender bias, though that wouldn’t have extended his sentence.

Prosecutors in Fulton County, where all the victims were women of Asian descent, have said they believe Long was motivated by race and gender. They plan to seek a hate crime sentencing enhancement.

Georgia’s new hate crimes law doesn’t provide for a stand-alone hate crime. After a conviction on an underlying crime, a jury determines whether it was motivated by bias, which carries an additional penalty.

The American Psychiatric Association doesn’t recognize sex addiction in its main reference guide for mental disorders. While some people struggle to control sexual behaviors, it’s often linked to recognized disorders or moral views, said David Ley, clinical psychologist and author of “The Myth of Sex Addiction.”

Long previously underwent inpatient and outpatient treatment for sex addiction, Wallace said. In fact, it was another patient who gave him the idea to seek sexual services at massage businesses, she said.

Wallace said prosecutors planned to seek the death penalty but decided a plea deal would bring swift justice and avoid any lengthy appeals. She said that’s what the victims and their families who they were able to contact wanted.

Bonnie Michels’ husband of 24 years, Paul, was the first person killed.

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

Elcias Hernandez Ortiz, who was shot in the face, also addressed the court, saying it’s been very hard for his family.

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

Long signed a plea agreement admitting to all charges in Cherokee County, including malice murder, felony murder, attempt to commit murder and aggravated assault. Cherokee County Superior Court Chief Judge Ellen McElyea then handed him four sentences of life without parole plus an additional 35 years.

Those killed in Cherokee County: 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 planned to kill himself that day and went to the massage businesses thinking that paying for sex — which he considered shameful — would push him to do it. But while sitting in his car outside the first spa, he decided to kill the people inside.

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

Long blamed the victims for his own inability to control his impulses, Wallace said.

Long is scheduled for arraignment next month in Fulton County. His Cherokee County lawyers said in a statement they hope prosecutors there will follow Wallace’s example and reach a similar plea agreement.

Wallace said that after the shootings at the two Atlanta spas, Long intended to carry out similar crimes in Florida.

By then, his parents had called authorities after recognizing their son in images from security video that authorities posted online. His parents were already tracking his movements through an application on his phone so they would know if he visited massage businesses, the prosecutor said, and that enabled officers to find him.

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Associated press writers Jeff Martin in Savannah and Sudhin Thanawala in Atlanta contributed to this report.

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This story has been updated to correct that the shooting happened in March 2021, not 2020.




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