Prosecutor to seek hate crime charges in Atlanta spa shootings

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Robert Aaron Long, accused of killing eight people, six of them women of Asian descent, was indicted on murder charges.

A man accused of killing eight people, six of them women of Asian descent, in shootings at three Atlanta-area massage businesses has been indicted on murder charges, and a prosecutor says she would also seek hate crime charges and the death penalty.

A Fulton County grand jury indicted Robert Aaron Long, 22, on Tuesday in the March 16 killings of Suncha Kim, 69; Soon Chung Park, 74; Hyun Jung Grant, 51; and Yong Ae Yue, 63. The indictment only covers those four killings that happened at two spas in Atlanta, and not the attack in Cherokee County in which Xiaojie “Emily” Tan, 49; Daoyou Feng, 44; Delaina Yaun, 33; and Paul Michels, 54, were killed.

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis also filed notice that she intends to seek hate crime charges and the death penalty against Long, who is white. The hate crime charges are based on the actual or perceived race, national origin, sex and gender of the four women killed, the notice says.

Dried flowers, signs and plants set up on the entrance of the Aromatherapy Spa in Atlanta after the deadly shootings [File: Bita Honarvar/Reuters]Georgia’s new hate crimes law does not provide for a stand-alone hate crime. After a person is convicted of an underlying crime, a jury must determine whether it is a hate crime, which carries an additional penalty.

The indictment charges Long with four counts of murder, four counts of felony murder, five counts of assault with a deadly weapon, four counts of possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony and one count of “domestic terrorism”, according to online records.

The “domestic terrorism” charge says Long committed a series of illegal acts “which were interrelated by distinguishing characteristics, with the intent to cause serious bodily harm and to kill individuals and groups of individuals, and with the intent to intimidate the civilian population of this state and of its political subdivisions”.

Four of the aggravated assault charges have to do with the shooting of the four victims who died. For the fifth, the indictment says Long pointed a gun at another woman, causing her “reasonable apprehension of immediately receiving a violent injury”. The notice of intent to seek hate crimes charges says she was targeted based on her actual or perceived sex and gender.

It will be up to a separate grand jury in Cherokee County to decide on charges in the shooting at a spa near suburban Woodstock in which four were killed and one person was wounded.

Booking photo of Robert Aaron Long, 22, accused of killing eight people, six of them women of Asian descent, in shootings at three Atlanta-area massage businesses [File: Crisp County Sheriff’s Office via AP]Willis’s decision to seek the death penalty is a departure from her stance during her campaign to be district attorney last year.

During a candidate forum last year, Willis answered “yes” when asked: “Will you commit to refuse to seek the death penalty?”

The killings are eligible for the death penalty because each was committed while Long was in the act of committing another capital offence, namely the killings of the victims, the notice of intent says. Each killing was also “outrageously or wantonly vile, horrible, or inhuman in that it involved depravity of mind” and was committed during an act of domestic terrorism, the notice says.

Police have said Long shot dead four people, three of them women and two of Asian descent, at Youngs Asian Massage near Woodstock just before 5pm on March 16. He also wounded a fifth person, investigators said.

He then drove about 50km (30 miles) south to Atlanta, where he shot dead three women at Gold Spa before going across the street to Aromatherapy Spa and fatally shooting another woman, police have said. All of the Atlanta victims were women of Asian descent.

After the shootings at the two Atlanta spas, Long got back into his car and headed south on the interstate, police said.

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