ATLANTA — The man accused in the shooting deaths of eight people at three Atlanta-area Asian-run spas pleaded guilty July 27 to four counts of murder in suburban Cherokee County, where he is facing four consecutive sentences of life in prison without parole, according to VOA News.

But Robert Aaron Long, 22, still possibly faces the death penalty if convicted in four more shooting deaths in nearby Fulton County, outside Atlanta, where he also faces charges of domestic terrorism in addition to murder. 

Long was arrested March 16 after a shooting spree at three massage parlors left eight people dead. Six of those killed were of Asian descent, and two were white. A ninth person was injured.

The victims at Young’s Asian Massage in Acworth were Delaina Ashley Yaun, 33; Paul Andre Michels, 54; Xiaojie Tan, 49; and Daoyou Feng, 44. The victims at Gold Spa in Atlanta were Hyun Jung Grant, 51; Suncha Kim, 69; and Soon Chung Park.

The shooting created a wave of fear in the Asian American community, which was already reeling from rising violence against Asians during the COVID-19 pandemic.

But prosecutors said shortly after the arrest that they would not pursue hate crime charges against Long, who is white, as their investigation indicated the killings were motivated by a sex addiction and not race. 

Long entered his plea Tuesday in Cherokee County Court, where he made his first public comments about the killings. He told the court how he purchased a firearm and a bottle of bourbon and set out to kill himself. He said he thought he would drive himself to do it by going to the massage parlors and paying for sex, which he viewed as sinful. 

But he told the court he decided instead to attack the sex industry. 

Long still faces 19 felony counts in Fulton County, including charges of murder, felony murder, aggravated assault and domestic terrorism.

Asian American civil rights advocates have been critical of Cherokee County authorities, who appeared to accept Long’s explanation that he did not commit a hate crime despite the fact he went to Asian-run businesses and killed six people of Asian descent — in essence allowing the perpetrator to determine the charges.

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