Robert Aaron Long, accused of fatally shooting eight people at three Atlanta-area spas, pleaded guilty to four of the murders in a deal formalized Tuesday in a Cherokee County courtroom.
The agreement spares him a death sentence, though that possibility remains in Fulton County, where District Attorney Fani Willis said she will seek the death penalty for the 22-year-old defendant. Regardless, Long’s deal with Cherokee prosecutors ensures he will spend the rest of his life in prison. He was handed four consecutive life sentences, plus 35 years, without the possibility of parole.
Long’s rampage inside Youngs Asian Massage on March 16 killed Xiaojie “Emily” Tan, 49, Daoyou Feng, 44, Delaina Yaun, 33, and Paul Michels, 54. A fifth person, Elcias Hernandez-Ortiz, was injured.
In a news conference after Tuesday’s hearing, Cherokee County District Attorney Shannon Wallace said the families of the shooting victims wanted “swift justice.”
“Today the families of those who were viciously murdered and the victims who were shot received justice,” Wallace said. “(Our) community will begin to heal from these unspeakable acts of violence.”
As a result of the plea deal, Long will spend the rest of his life in prison, Wallace said. She offered no comment on the case against Long in Fulton County, which involves four other victims.
Though Cherokee officials did not pursue the death penalty for Long, it remains a possibility in the Fulton case. Both the FBI and Cherokee DA’s office investigated whether to designate the shootings as a hate crime, but determined not to add that enhancement to Long’s charges.
Jongwon Lee, a volunteer attorney with the Korean American Committee Against Asian Hate Crime, said that the outcome of Long’s plea deal may be lost in translation for some in the Asian community.
“Plea bargains don’t exist in Asian countries,” Lee said. “I believe the DA needs to explain the process of negotiations to the Asian community or they will not accept the outcomes.”
There was also a cultural disconnect in the public court proceedings that addressed Long’s claims of sex addiction, Lee said, pointing out the importance of honor in Asian cultures.
“Why did the DA humiliate the victims so much?” Lee asked. “This is not a trial of the victims.”
Clement Lin, an Asian American and Atlanta resident, said he felt mixed emotions about Long’s four life sentences.
“In some ways, it feels like a relief, but I don’t fully trust our justice system,” Lin said. “At the end of the day, we know the motivations for these murders and the hatred towards Asian Americans won’t change as a result of this verdict. There’s still so much work to be done.”
Long’s attorneys said it was the 22-year-old’s desire to accept responsibility for his actions from the time of his first interview with police.
“The Cherokee County District Attorney Shannon Wallace worked with us to negotiate this case to achieve today’s result bringing finality in Cherokee County,” said Canton attorney Zachary Smith, half of Long’s court-appointed defense team, in a statement. “It is our hope that the Fulton County District Attorney follows D.A. Wallace’s example and agrees to a similar resolution in that county.”
Smith said he and co-counsel Daran Burns have worked toward this resolution the past 113 days, calling the negotiated plea a success as it removed the death penalty from the table in Cherokee. Wallace said Tuesday she would have sought death if the case had gone to trial, but she never filed her intent to do so.
Smith made no further comment about the pending Fulton case.
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