The man accused of killing eight people at Atlanta-area spas in March will serve four life sentences in prison after pleading guilty to four of the murders.
Cherokee County Judge Ellen McElyea handed down the sentence for Robert Aaron Long on Tuesday, more than four months after the March 16 rampage inside Youngs Asians Massage. Delaina Ashley Yaun, 33; Paul Andre Michels, 54; Xiaojie Tan, 49; and Daoyou Feng, 44, were killed. That same day he’s accused of fatally shooting four others at two spas in Atlanta.
The guilty plea and the sentence were part of a deal announced during the proceeding.
Long was indicted on 23 charges related to the Cherokee County shooting including malicious murder, felony murder, and aggravated assault. Although the state said several of the charges will either merge or be vacated by the law, he pleaded guilty to every charge as part of an agreement.
Prosecutors recommended four life sentences in prison without the possibility of parole, plus 35 years. McElyea agreed with the recommendation.
Evidence shows that Long entered Youngs Asians Massage and paid for a service, prosecutors said. He had a handgun with 17 bullets in his pocket that he had purchased earlier that day along with a box of 50 bullets, the prosecutor said. His service ended around 4:45 p.m.
Prosecutors said Long then went into a back bathroom. After he came out, he fatally shot Michels who had been leaning over a counter looking at his cellphone.
“According to the defendant’s statement, he pulled the 9mm handgun out, raised it toward Mr. Michels, and shot one time, executing him,” the prosecutor said.
Long then walked toward the front of the spa, “shooting anyone and everyone he saw,” according to the prosecutor.
Feng, who had been employed with the spa for only a few months, was in a room with a customer when gunfire erupted. Prosecutors said Feng was shot when she poked her head out of the room to see what was going on. The customer in the room survived.
As gunshots continued to ring out, employees and customers ran into rooms to hide.
Tan was hiding in a room when she was shot once in the head, according to prosecutors. After killing her, Long went into another room where a customer was crouching down behind a massage table.
Long shot the customer once in the face but the man survived. Prosecutors told the courtroom that the bullet was “still lodged in his body” and the man was present in the courtroom for the hearing.
Yaun was at the spa with her husband, Mario Gonzalez, for a couple’s massage. The two were in separate rooms when the shooting began. Prosecutors said Yaun was killed as she crouched in the corner. The bullet went through her body and into a neighboring business.
According to the state, six employees and customers survived the attack, including Gonzalez. Prosecutors said they were either hiding in rooms where someone else was shot or were in rooms Long did not enter.
The entire shooting spree at the spa lasted less than 10 minutes. Prosecutors said evidence shows Long left the business at around 4:50 p.m. and drove to Atlanta, where he is accused of carrying out the two other shootings. Six of the eight victims were women of Asian descent.
Long had previously told authorities that the shooting was motivated by “sexual addiction,” a claim that has drawn criticism from experts who say such rationale has been previously used before in attempts to exonerate white men.
Experts also said the explanation discounts racial dynamics and can “cause harm” in the way the public understands these issues.
At Tuesday’s hearing, the prosecutor suggested that Long’s motive was due to his addiction and said that Cherokee County investigators saw no evidence of racial bias.
“This was not any kind of hate crime,” the prosecutor said.
McElyea, however, cast doubt on that statement.
“But what is also true is that you harmed people who were not in those categories because once hatred is given a gun, it doesn’t matter who gets in the way,” she said.
Long, dressed in a white button-down shirt and gray pants with shackles around his waist and wrists, told the courtroom that on the morning of the shootings, his roommate had overheard him watching pornography. He said he felt ashamed and went out to purchase a handgun because he wanted to kill himself.
He told the judge that he bought the weapon, went to purchase alcohol, and then drove to Youngs Asian Massage. When questioned about why he went to the spa, Long said he planned on paying for a sexual service and thought it would make him feel guilty enough to go through with the suicide.
“I was scared of killing myself and wanted to try to overcome that so I could,” he told the judge Tuesday.
He said as he sat in the parking lot getting drunk, he started “thinking about killing the people inside there.”
Long said after paying for a service and using the bathroom, he began fatally shooting the employees and customers.
According to prosecutors, Long planned on traveling to Florida to carry out a similar crime. He was arrested after his parents contacted authorities when they saw him in a photo released by police. Prosecutors said that Long’s parents put a tracker app on his phone because of the addiction and used the app to help law enforcement find him.
Long is scheduled to appear in Fulton County Court next month for the Atlanta charges. While the agreement in Cherokee County spares him a death sentence, District Attorney Fani Willis said she will seek the death penalty in Fulton County, according to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.