There are growing calls for the suspect who killed six Asian women in Georgia to be charged with a hate crime.
Robert Aaron Long, the man charged in the shooting deaths of eight people in Atlanta-area spas in March – six of them women of Asian descent – pleaded guilty on Tuesday to murdering four of the victims.
Dressed in a white, button-down shirt with an open collar, and dress slacks and sporting a mohawk haircut, Long pleaded guilty in court to the murders of four people at the day spa in Cherokee County, about 64km (40 miles) north of Atlanta.
Long, holding his head up but looking sombre, also affirmed agreement with the state’s recommendation of four life sentences without the possibility of parole, to be served consecutively, plus 35 years on other charges.
The victims in Cherokee County have been identified as: Delaina Ashley Yaun, 33; Paul Andre Michels, 54; Xiaojie Yan, 49; and Daoyou Feng, 44.
Long has also been indicted on murder charges in the March 16 killings of four women in Fulton County, Georgia, which includes Atlanta.
Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis has said Long targeted the women in Atlanta because of their race, national origin and gender and that she would seek the death penalty against him.
The killings, which Cherokee County officials have tied to “sex addiction”, galvanized awareness of a wave of anti-Asian bias and violence in the United States in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, which is believed to have originated in China.
But Cherokee District Attorney Shannon Wallace said her office’s investigation did not turn up any bias based on race or gender.
“We were not able to conclude that it was motivated by bias or race,” she told the court. “In discussing this case, this was not any kind of hate crime.”
Long initially went to Youngs Asian Massage in Acworth, Georgia, with the intent to engage in sexual activity to obtain the “necessary amount of shame and hate” to kill himself over his struggle with sex addiction, Wallace said.
At some point, while drinking bourbon, Long decided instead to carry out “vigilante justice” to end the sex industry, she said.
After killing four people at Youngs, police said Long drove to neighbouring Atlanta and opened fire at two other spas killing Hyun Jung Grant, 51; Soon Chung Park, 74; Suncha Kim, 69; and Yong Ae Yue, 63.