July 27, 2021 – Robert Aaron Long accused of killing eight people, mostly women of Asian descent, at Atlanta-area massage businesses pleaded guilty to murder in four of the killings. The accused widely known as the Atlanta spa shooter received a sentence of life imprisonment. Cherokee County District Attorney Shannon Wallace, the lead prosecutor on the case has not linked a hate motivation to the killings.
The families of Xiaojie “Emily” Tan, 49, Daoyou Feng, 44, Delaina Yaun, 33, and Paul Michels, 54, were in attendance in the Cherokee County courtroom as Long spoke publicly for the first time about the fatal shootings.
Robert Aaron Long still faces prosecution in Fulton County where he murdered four other victims in Atlanta. There is possibility where Fulton County's District Attorney Fani Willis will seek the death penalty for the 22-year-old defendant’s shootings of four people at spas in that county.
There are strong reactions from metro Atlanta's Asian American community leaders on the Cherokee County's plea deal and the Georgia's hate crime laws was ignored on this case:
“I don’t know if the family happy with the plea deal, I am sure the victims family is feeling emotionally exhausted. I definitely think that shooter should be charged with hate crime. The fact remains that he only targeted innocent Asian women as his victims. I hope that the Fulton County District Attorney will do a better job prosecuting him. Hate crime against Asians or hate crime against anyone needs to stop. ABC news mentioned that Long is addicted to sex and therefore implying those spas are selling sex is outrageous.”
– Lani Wong, Chairwoman, National Association of Chinese Americans (NACA)
“On what may be an incredibly difficult day for those affected by the March 16th shootings, I am holding the families and our communities in my thoughts, and hope today’s events bring some measure of peace. What justice looks like in the long term, however, results not from any one decision, but from continued attention, work, and commitment to addressing violence and discrimination. The work we continue to do together is what truly transformative justice looks like.”
– Senator Michelle Au, MD, Georgia Senate District 48
“There was already talk of a guilty plea deal in May since the families started meeting with Cherokee County District Attorney Shannon Wallace. I could sense then that we were not getting a hate crime charge and we were not getting a death penalty out of Cherokee County for the victim's families. Today's verdict confirmed that disappointment. We all know he is guilty of all four counts of murder at Youngs Asian Massage. What we got here is a good deal for the defendant so he can still be alive (for life in prison), while all his eight victims are dead and all their families are still broken.
We fortunately have District Attorney Fani Willis in Fulton County who has the resources and insights to indict this crime with hate crime charges and seek a death penalty as full justice under the law for the victims. I understand legally seeking a death penalty is tricky and then there is an appeal process, not withstanding future federal legislation that may halt an execution.
Some of the victim's families are forgiving and some are wondering why he is still alive, especially overseas Chinese family members in China who are used to more swift and conclusive death penalties for even less violent and less vicious crimes. I think some of the families who live and are educated here understand the limitations of the US judicial system and that this plea deal will save them from having to go through a long and painful trial with the killer. This is a hedged position with one known outcome of punishment for the shooter. The community wants full justice, not half justice given the Anti Asian sentiment and the outrageous Asian hate crimes happening nationally.
The shooter should definitely be charged with a racially motivated hate crime against Asian women. He sexually objectified Asian women and when the love was over, seeks to eradicate them by systemic execution, shooting three straight in the head. Only Asian businesses were targeted. He had a love-hate relationship with Asian women. He went out to kill Asian women. If he had made it to Florida and killed 120 more Asian women, would the Cherokee DA still say this was not racially motivated? Do we not exist as a protected class? The DA should have also sought a hate crime enhancement based on gender as allowed by law but also chose not to.
The Asian American community is not happy about the lack of a hate crime charge because it erases us, silences our suffering and sweeps us under the rug.
Robert Aaron Long was on a killing spree and specifically hunting down Asian women at their place of work to murder them.
I am equally infuriated by news anchors and media who are spinning this story away from the heinous act of the shooter to victim blaming and Asian spa business shaming! They are effectively creating more Asian hate sentiment that will further harm this vulnerable community.”
– Cam Ashling, Founder, Georgia Advancing Progress PAC
“Like many of the other thoughts expressed by AAPIs, to me underscore the importance of restorative justice – which is rarely if ever achieved in our present criminal justice system, and doesn’t yet seem to have been achieved with the March 16 shootings, based on what’s been expressed by so many AAPIs.
Notwithstanding being an AAPI elected official in Georgia, I fully believe – like with pretty much every other issue – that it’s not my own lived experiences and opinions that matter most here, but those of the victims’ families, survivors, the AAPI communities impacted by this particularly tragedy, and, ultimately, anyone who has had to cross paths with our criminal justice system – including those who’ve had to deal with the impact of sentencing and plea bargaining, and all that comes with it.
Bearing that last group in mind – and the racial inequities experienced by so many of them – I was publicly against the death penalty being sought by the Fulton DA. Bearing the same thing in mind, I have long been personally opposed to all life without parole sentencing – something that many countries that impose life sentences prohibit. And, even with hate crimes sentencing, the potential slippery problems with that can be seen in the recent Utah decision to bring hate crimes charges against a 19-year old for stomping on a “Back the Blue” sign.
But even if you agree with the death penalty, agree with life without parole, agree with hate crimes sentencing, agree with plea bargaining – noting, as one person in this article notes, that it’s not a thing in some Asian countries, and, in this case, was conducted in a way that allowed the perpetrator to talk even more about sex addiction (which is being interpreted as a further slap in the face to the victims) – today only underscores that true healing happens outside of the criminal justice system. The same goes true for prevention, something that me and my colleagues continue also to work on.”
– Rep. Marvin Lim, Georgia House of Representative (District 99)