The 22-year-old man who opened fire and killed eight people in three Georgia spas in March pleaded guilty to four of the murders on Tuesday.
He was sentenced to life in prison without parole over the murders in the city of Acworth, but he could still face the death penalty due to the additional four deaths with which he is charged in Atlanta.
At the Acworth spa on March 16, Robert Aaron Long fatally shot Xiaojie Tan, 49; Delaina Ashley Yaun, 33; Daoyou Feng, 44; and Paul Andre Michels, 54. He then drove to Atlanta, where he killed Soon Chung Park, 74; Hyun Jung Grant, 51; Sun Cha Kim, 69; and Yong Ae Yue, 63.
Six of the eight victims were Asian women, and the deadly attack occurred amid a wave of anti-Asian violence. The incident also marked the beginning of a spate of mass shootings across the US after a lull during the pandemic.
For the Atlanta killings, unlike in Acworth, Long faces domestic terrorism charges, and prosecutors are seeking to classify the killings as hate crimes. To find him guilty of a hate crime, prosecutors would need to prove he was motivated to kill the victims because of their race or gender, which may be difficult due to his claims that he was not motivated by such hatred.
After the shooting, police said he told them he had committed the attack because he was addicted to sex and wanted to “take out that temptation,” though they cautioned that they were still investigating.
Despite his claims, the three spas he targeted were explicitly marketed as having a staff made up of Asian women.
Asian women widely face racist and sexist stereotypes and are often hypersexualized, fetishized, and dehumanized.
Law enforcement officials were criticized for their public discussion of the case shortly after it occurred, particularly for quickly sowing doubt over whether race had been a motive. One police spokesperson even appeared to sympathize with Long, saying he'd had "a really bad day." That official was later found to have posted a photo on Facebook of a racist T-shirt blaming China for the coronavirus pandemic.
Cherokee County District Attorney Shannon Wallace, who handled the Acworth case, said the 22-year-old was motivated solely by his sex addiction, not racism, according to the Associated Press.
In court on Tuesday, Wallace said all the evidence “came to the same conclusion, that this crime was not motivated by a bias or hate against Asian Americans." Any findings of a sexist motivation, she said, would not have a significant impact on his sentencing.
However, if Long had pleaded not guilty, Wallace reportedly planned on pursuing the death penalty.
He will appear in Fulton County Superior Court on Aug. 23 for his hearing on the Atlanta killings, where he faces charges of domestic terrorism as well as possible hate crime charges. If found guilty in the four murders, he could still be sentenced to the death penalty.
As of Tuesday, 25,345 people in the US have died in shootings so far this year, over half of which were suicides, according to the Gun Violence Archive.
Correction: Shannon Wallace was misquoted in an earlier version of this story. The quote has since been removed.