D.A. Will Seek Death Penalty Against Spa Shooting Suspect

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Members of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus visited the Atlanta-area spas in March to honor the shooting victims and to call for action against anti-Asian hate crimes. (CBS46)

ATLANTA — Robert Aaron Long, the suspect in the shootings that left eight people dead at three Atlanta-area spas, has been indicted on murder charges.

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis — who took office in January after defeating her former boss, Paul Howard — filed notice with the Fulton Superior Court on Tuesday that she plans to seek the death penalty and enhanced hate crimes charges against Long in the first test of a hate crime law passed by the Georgia Legislature last year.

Fani Willis

“I, along with my staff, have made a determination that this office will seek the death penalty,” Willis said. “Last year, I told the voters of Fulton County that I could not imagine a circumstance where I would seek it. And at that time I did not.

“Unfortunately, a case has arisen in the first few months of my term that I believe warrants the ultimate penalty. Further, we have filed a notice that we will seek sentence enhancement, pursuant to Georgia’s sentencing enhancement statute, commonly referred to as a hate crime statute, based on the race and gender of the victims.”

The law — signed by Gov. Brian Kemp after outcry over the killing of Ahmaud Arbery — carries enhanced penalties for crimes in which victims were targeted for, among other things, their race, gender, and sexual orientation. Seven of the victims killed in the spa shootings were women, and six of the women were of Asian descent. Georgia had been one of four states without a hate crime law.

Willis said this is the law’s first application in Fulton County and possibly the first application in the state.

“I have personally walked the crime scene in this case,” she said. “I have spent more than six hours with the families involved in this case. We have reviewed the evidence, and I am comfortable in the decision that this is an appropriate sentence to seek.

“The message that I hope we are sending is: It does not matter your ethnicity. It does not matter what side of the tracks you come from. It does not matter your wealth. You will be treated as an individual with value.”

Long, 21, of Woodstock, Ga., was also indicted in Cherokee County on four counts of malice murder, four counts of felony murder, 11 counts of criminal attempt to commit murder and aggravated assault, aggravated battery, possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony, and criminal damage to property in the first degree.

He is accused of opening fire at the spas on the afternoon and early evening of March 16, first at a business about 30 miles northwest of Atlanta, followed by two more in northeastern Atlanta.

A separate grand jury in Cherokee County will decide on charges for the shooting in Acworth, Ga., that left four killed and one person wounded.

Cherokee County authorities said shortly after Long’s arrest that he told investigators that the shootings were not racially motivated but the result of “sexual addiction” and “an issue with porn.”

Sheriff’s Capt. Jay Baker said at the time that Long claimed to see the spas as “a temptation … that he wanted to eliminate.”

The Cherokee County victims were Delaina Ashley Yaun, 33, of Acworth; Paul Andre Michels, 54, of Atlanta; Xiaojie Tan, 49, of Kennesaw; and Daoyou Feng, 44. Elcias R. Hernandez-Ortiz, 30, of Acworth was wounded.

The victims at the two Atlanta spas were Soon Chung Park, 74; Hyun Jung Grant, 51; Suncha Kim, 69; and Yong Ae Yue, 63.

“Since the tragic shootings on March 16, Advancing Justice-Atlanta has stood with the families and loved ones of the victims,” said Stephanie Cho, executive director of Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Atlanta. “Our communities in Georgia and especially the victims’ families are still grieving. Our work ahead continues to center healing, care and reimagining justice for our communities.

“The pursuit of justice varies across the victims’ families, our community members and even with our loved ones. For Advancing Justice-Atlanta, we believe that justice lies beyond the carceral system. We join the growing calls nationwide for community-led solutions and accountability that address the root causes of racism, violence, and harm so that everyone, Asian, Pacific Islander, Black, Brown, no matter where we were born, can go to work, walk down the street and move through our lives without fearing for ourselves or our loved ones.”

In March, Advancing Justice-Atlanta and over 2,000 organizations released a Community-Centered Response to Violence Against Asian American Communities.

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