San Francisco Chronicle

Life sentence with no parole for  killings at Asian spa

- By Kate Bružmbrack Kate Brumback is an Associated Press writer.

CANTON, Ga. — A man accused of killing eight people, mostly women of Asian descent, at Atlantaare­a 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 March ignited 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.

Cherokee County prosecutor­s had planned to seek the death penalty but decided a plea deal would bring swift justice and avoid any lengthy appeals. That’s what the victims and their families who they were able to contact wanted, District Attorney Shannon Wallace said.

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.

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 reiterated Tuesday that Cherokee County investigat­ors saw no evidence of racial bias. Long walked through the first spa “shooting anyone and everyone he saw” and told detectives he was motivated by a sex addiction.

“This was not any kind of hate crime,” Wallace said during the hearing.

Investigat­ors interviewe­d people who knew Long for years, including three of Asian descent, who said they’d never heard him make racist comments, she said. Her team also considered the diversity of the people shot in Cherokee County. They 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 standalone 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.

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.

 ?? Ben Gray / Associated Press ?? 0obert aron ong, 22, enters Su¸erior ourt in anton, Ga., where he ¸leaded guilty to four counts of murder at an tlantaarea massage business.
Ben Gray / Associated Press 0obert aron ong, 22, enters Su¸erior ourt in anton, Ga., where he ¸leaded guilty to four counts of murder at an tlantaarea massage business.

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