Robert Aaron Long entered Youngs Asian Massage in Woodstock on March 16 as a customer. He left as a killer, shooting “anyone and everyone he saw” inside the spa, Cherokee County District Attorney Shannon Wallace told a packed courtroom Tuesday.

Xiaojie “Emily” Tan, 49; Daoyou Feng, 44; Delaina Yaun, 33; and Paul Michels, 54, were killed that day by Long, a 22-year-old part-time landscaper with no prior criminal record. He pleaded guilty to those murders, and 19 other criminal counts, after accepting a deal that spares his life but ensures several lifetimes in prison.

He also shot a fifth person, Elcias Hernandez-Ortiz, between his eyes, investigators said.

“Honestly, this man, why didn’t he think before killing so many people?” Hernandez-Ortiz, 30, told the court Tuesday in a victim impact statement.

Cherokee Superior Court Judge Ellen McElyea sentenced Long to four life sentences without the possibility of parole, to run consecutively, plus 35 years.

Attorney J. Daran Burns, who represented Long, said his client accepted the deal “to start the first step toward healing.”

But in a case that has captured national attention, Long’s motivations remain a source of deep division. And with additional charges facing him in Fulton County — where he’s accused of killing three women at Gold Spa on Piedmont Avenue and another woman at Aromatherapy Spa across the street — the debate rages on.

On Tuesday, he blamed his actions on a sex addiction that he said left him racked with guilt and clouded his judgment. Long was raised in a fundamentalist Christian church, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has previously reported, that taught sex outside of marriage is a sin. It’s a belief he repeated to Judge McElyea when she asked him why he thought watching pornography was wrong.

Long was prepared to plead guilty from the beginning, said Burns.

Wallace said she was prepared to seek the death penalty but opted for the “swift justice” that concluded the first of the two cases against Long in a matter of months.

Wallace said she was influenced in part by the victim’s families, adding those who were available for consultation supported the plea agreement.

Killer’s rationale ‘is sick and twisted’

But Wallace’s decision angered some Asian-American activists who believe Long was driven by racial animus — six of the eight victims were women of Asian descent — and should be charged under Georgia’s new hate crimes law, which provides 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.

Prosecutors in Cherokee ultimately chose Long’s narrative, which he first shared with investigators the morning after his arrest.

“The defendant’s rationale for this crime is sick and twisted, and hard for a rational mind to comprehend,” Wallace said. “He claimed that he was blame-shifting and committed the crimes because of his own inabilities to control his impulses to watch pornography and then act out the sexual urges. The fact is there is no one to blame for the defendant’s failures and sins but the defendant himself.”

Wallace said they found no proof that race played any role in the killings, but Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis said Tuesday that hate crimes are still on the table. The veteran prosecutor said she is confident she has enough evidence to prove the charges against Long, which include four counts of felony murder, were motivated in part by bias. She also reiterated her plan to seek the death penalty against Long, who is scheduled to be arraigned in Fulton on Aug. 23 for the Atlanta spa shootings.

Burns indicated Tuesday that his client’s “willingness to accept responsibility for what he’s done doesn’t stop in Cherokee County.” But Willis said there will be no plea deals offered in the Fulton case.

‘I was scared of killing myself’

Sitting in the parking lot of Youngs on March 16, sipping from a bottle of bourbon, Long said he started to reconsider his plan to commit suicide. Earlier that day, he spent $460 on a 9 mm handgun, though he told the judge he wasn’t sure he could go through with it.

He said he decided to visit the spa and pay for one last sexual act with one of the employees in hopes that the guilt that always followed such experiences would compel him to pull the trigger.

“My hope was that I’d hate myself enough at that point to do my final plan,” he said.

Long had skipped work that day, telling prosecutors he spent most of the morning watching porn on his computer. Long said he had become obsessed with satisfying his sexual fantasies. A week earlier, his parents discovered he had visited a spa in Fulton and, when he refused to seek additional treatment, they kicked him out of the house, Wallace said.

Now the friend he was staying with wanted to speak with him about the “elephant in the room,” according to the Cherokee DA.

Long told Judge McElyea he felt embarrassed and ashamed. It was at that point he decided to kill himself.

“It never felt like I had a lot of control over those urges and it became obsessive to the point it occupied a lot of thought space,” Long explained. “Hurt a lot of other relationships in my life, but I still found myself going back to it.”

He said he sat in his car outside Youngs for one hour, drinking more bourbon, contemplating his options. It was then, he said, that he began to devise a more sinister plan, one that Wallace said cast him as a vigilante out to destroy the sex industry.

“The train of thought wasn’t remotely logical,” he told the judge Tuesday. “What was running through my mind is I wanted to stop the places and basically punish the people that I could.”

Long went inside Youngs, where he said he handed a wad of cash to a woman at the front desk.

For that, he said, he received a massage with a woman and she performed a sex act.

After he got dressed, Long said he asked to get a key to the bathroom. He had made up his mind by then, he said, to come out of the bathroom firing.

“How long between the first shot and the time that you left?” Judge McElyea asked him.

“It didn’t feel like more than five minutes,” he said. “I don’t recall thinking much after I pulled the trigger.”

After nearly three hours of bleakness and despair in the courtroom, McElyea struggled to make sense of it all.

“Please understand that all the victims in this case are innocent,” she said. “None of them deserved the fate that was visited upon them by Mr. Long. I don’t expect it’s a wound that will ever heal.”

— AJC staff writer Alexis Stevens contributed to this article.

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