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TOWNSHIP, Ga. (AP) – A man accused of killing eight people, mostly women of Asian descent, at Atlanta-area massage companies pleaded guilty on Tuesday to murder in four of the murders and has was sentenced to spend the rest of his life in prison.

Robert Aaron Long, 22, still faces the death penalty in other cases, which are being prosecuted in another county. The spate of shootings at three companies in March sparked outrage and fueled fear among Asian Americans, who were already facing heightened hostility over the coronavirus pandemic. Many were particularly upset when authorities suggested that Long’s crimes were not racially motivated but born out of sex addiction, which is not 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 lengthy appeals. This is what the victims and their families wanted, and they were able to contact them, said District Attorney Shannon Wallace.

Bonnie Michels’ husband of 24 years, Paul, was the first person killed.

“Part of me died with him that day,” she told the judge. ” I’m broken. “

Elcias Hernandez Ortiz, who was shot in the face, also addressed the court, saying it had been very difficult for his family.

“Honestly, this man, why didn’t he think about it before killing so many people?” I only want justice, ”he said through a Spanish translator.

On March 16, Long shot dead four people, including three women and two of Asian origin, at Youngs Asian Massage in Cherokee County. A fifth person was injured. Long then traveled to Atlanta, where he shot dead three women at Gold Spa before crossing the street for 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 said she intended to seek the death penalty. There, Long faces charges of aggravated assault and domestic terrorism in addition to murder.

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

Investigators interviewed people who had known Long for years, including three of Asian descent, who said they had never heard him make racist comments, she said. His team also took into account the diversity of those shot in Cherokee County. They included a Hispanic man and a white man and woman.

Leaders of the Asian-American community said Tuesday they feared the shootings continued to be blamed on sex addiction. Long’s crimes were “intended to target Asians, especially Asian women,” said State Representative Bee Nguyen, the first American of Vietnamese descent to serve at Georgia House and a frequent activist for women and men. communities of color.

Wallace said she allegedly argued at trial that Long was motivated by gender bias, although that would not have extended his sentence.

Prosecutors in Fulton County, where all the victims were women of Asian descent, said they believed Long was motivated by race and gender. They plan to call for improved sentences for hate crimes.

Georgia’s new hate crime law does not provide for a stand-alone hate crime. After a conviction for an underlying felony, a jury determines whether it was motivated by bias, resulting in an additional sentence.

The American Psychiatric Association does not recognize sex addiction in its primary reference guide for mental disorders. While some people have difficulty controlling their sexual behavior, it is often linked to recognized disorders or moral opinions, said David Ley, clinical psychologist and author of “The Myth of Sex Addiction.”

Long already undergone inpatient and outpatient treatment for sex addiction, Wallace said. In fact, it was another patient who gave her the idea to seek out sexual services at massage companies, she said.

Long signed a plea agreement admitting all charges in Cherokee County, including malicious murder, criminal murder, attempted murder and aggravated assault. Cherokee County Superior Court Chief Justice Ellen McElyea then sentenced him four terms of life without parole plus an additional 35 years.

People killed in Cherokee County: Michels, 54; Xiaojie “Emily” Tan, 49; Daoyou Feng, 44 years old; and Delaina Yaun, 33. The Atlanta victims were: Suncha Kim, 69; Soon Chung Park, 74; Hyun Jung Grant, 51; and Yong Ae Yue, 63.

Long said he was planning to kill himself that day and went to massage companies believing that paying for sex – which he saw as shameful – would make him do it. But while he was sitting in his car outside the first spa, he decided to kill the people inside.

After being captured in South Georgia, Long told detectives he was fighting pornography and sex. He believed he was an addict and felt extremely guilty when watching porn or engaging in sex acts at massage companies, Wallace said.

Long blamed victims for his inability to control his impulses, Wallace said.

Long is due to appear next month in Fulton County. His Cherokee County attorneys said in a statement they hope prosecutors follow Wallace’s lead and come to a similar plea deal.

Wallace said that after the shooting at the two Atlanta spas, Long intended to commit similar crimes in Florida.

At that time, his parents called authorities after recognizing their son in footage from a security video posted online by authorities. His parents were already tracking his movements through an app on his phone so they would know if he was visiting massage companies, the prosecutor said, and this allowed officers to find him.

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Associated Press editors Jeff Martin in Savannah and Sudhin Thanawala in Atlanta contributed to this report.

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This story has been updated to correct the fact that the shooting took place in March 2021, not 2020.

Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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