Convicted spa shooter to be arraigned Monday in Fulton case

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

Credit: Ben Gray

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

Credit: Ben Gray

DA seeking death penalty for 22-year-old Robert Aaron Long

The last time Robert Aaron Long was in court, he gave up any hope of freedom, pleading guilty in Cherokee County to four fatal shootings and more than a dozen other charges.

When he returns to court Monday in Fulton County for arraignment, the stakes will be even higher.

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Fulton District Attorney Fani Willis announced in May that she would be seeking the death penalty for Long, charged with killing Yong Ae Yue, 63; Soon Chung Park, 74; Suncha Kim, 69; and Hyun Jung Grant, 51 at two Piedmont Road spas.

Those shootings followed the four murders that Long, 22, pleaded guilty to last month. After paying for a service at Young’s Asian Massage near Acworth on March 16, Long pulled out his just-purchased 9 mm handgun and killed Xiaojie “Emily” Tan, 49; Daoyou Feng, 44; Delaina Yaun, 33; and Paul Michels, 54.

He received four life sentences plus 35 years without the possibility of parole for the Cherokee murders.

Cherokee DA Shannon Wallace said she honored the wishes of the Young’s Asian Massage victims’ families and the survivors by seeking “swift justice.” Wallace also expressed doubts there was enough evidence to prove Long’s actions were racially motivated, she said.

Of the four people killed in Cherokee, two were Asian women. In Atlanta, all four women were Asian.

Willis said in a recent interview she is confident her team has sufficient evidence to convict Long on hate crimes charges. She said there won’t be any deals offered in the Fulton case.

“I spent 10 hours with the victims’ families. I’m completely confident they support me in this,” Willis said. “I think these victims deserve a thorough examination of what happened and why it happened.”

It could take up to two years for the death penalty case to come to trial, said attorney BJ Pak, who represents the families of Yue and Kim.

“My clients want justice and they are behind the DA’s decision,” Pak said.

Willis, elected to her first term as district attorney in November, campaigned against the death penalty but said the spa shootings required an exception be made.

“Last year, I told the voters of Fulton County that I could not imagine a circumstance where I would seek it,” Willis said in May. “And at that time, I did not. Unfortunately, a case has arisen in the first few months of my term that I believe warrants it.”

Still, the death penalty remains rare in Georgia, where only one such sentence has been handed down in the past seven years. That occurred in April 2019 when a Gwinnett County jury sentenced Tiffany Moss to die by lethal injection for starving her 10-year-old stepdaughter, then trying to burn the child’s corpse inside a trash can. In that case, Moss represented herself and put up no defense.

Hate crimes prosecutions are also uncommon. Georgia enacted its law in 2020, one of the last states to do so.

Georgia’s hate crime law offers sentencing guidelines for anyone convicted of targeting a victim based on race, color, religion, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, gender, mental disability or physical disability. It is not yet known whether Willis will allege that gender or race bias — or both — motivated Long.

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In the Cherokee case, Long told the judge that he initially planned to kill himself because of the shame he felt over what he called his “obsessive” addiction to pornography.

As he sat in his car outside Young’s Asian Massage, where he was a frequent customer, Long said he began thinking about killing the people inside. He described it as shifting the blame from himself to those inside the spa.

“I wanted to stop the places and basically punish the people that I could,” Long told Cherokee Superior Court Judge Ellen McElyea.

THE STORY SO FAR

Robert Aaron Long was arrested on March 16, the same night he allegedly shot and killed eight people, including six Asian women, at three metro Atlanta spas. He was charged with four counts of murder in both Fulton and Cherokee counties. In July he pleaded guilty to all four counts in Cherokee and was sentenced to four life sentences plus 35 years without the possibility of parole. Fulton District Attorney Fani Willis says she will seek the death penalty against Long, who also faces hate crime charges in the Fulton shootings.