Suspect in Atlanta Spa Killings Pleads Not Guilty to 4 Counts of Murder

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Robert Aaron Long pleaded blameworthy successful July to 4 different execution charges and volition walk the remainder of his beingness down bars.

A memorial extracurricular  of Gold Spa successful  Atlanta successful  March. The spa was among 3  wherever  8  radical   were killed successful  a shooting rampage.
Credit...Chang W. Lee/The New York Times

Sept. 28, 2021Updated 3:25 p.m. ET

ATLANTA — A 22-year-old antheral facing the decease punishment for a shooting rampage astatine a drawstring of spas successful the Atlanta country pleaded not blameworthy to 4 execution charges connected Tuesday, raising the anticipation of a protracted tribunal conflict implicit 1 of the deadliest U.S. wide shootings of 2021.

The man, Robert Aaron Long, had previously pleaded blameworthy to 4 execution counts and different transgression charges successful Cherokee County, wherever the March 16 shooting spree began astatine a suburban portion mall. He was sentenced to 4 consecutive beingness sentences positive 35 years for those crimes.

But Mr. Long besides faces 4 further execution charges stemming from attacks committed successful the metropolis of Atlanta, wherever the Fulton County prosecutor, Fani T. Willis, is seeking the decease penalty.

Mr. Long admitted to the shootings, which near 8 radical dead, soon aft his capture, according to instrumentality enforcement. In a erstwhile tribunal appearance, helium said that helium struggled to power his urges to spot prostitutes and usage pornography, and said that helium committed the killings to “punish” enactment manufacture workers.

Ms. Willis’s bureau is seeking enhanced penalties for the Atlanta killings, arguing that Mr. Long targeted the victims due to the fact that of their “actual oregon perceived race, nationalist origin, enactment and gender.” Mr. Long is white; six of the radical killed, including each of the Atlanta victims, were women of Asian descent.

Mr. Long appeared successful a downtown Atlanta courtroom connected Tuesday successful a proceeding that lasted conscionable a fewer minutes. He was wearing a look mask, glasses and a grey suit jacket. He opted not to speak, preferring to let 1 of his lawyers to participate his not blameworthy plea connected his behalf.

Mr. Long’s erstwhile plea, successful July, was portion of a woody that allowed him to debar going to proceedings successful Cherokee County, wherever prosecutors said they, too, would person pursued the decease penalty. Ms. Willis has said that lawyers for Mr. Long had approached her bureau seeking a akin arrangement.

But portion Ms. Willis, a Democrat, has said she is mostly unfastened to considering plea deals, she has indicated that she volition proceed to prosecute the decease punishment successful Mr. Long’s case, astatine slightest for now. Some of the victims’ household members besides judge that execution is the due punishment for Mr. Long.

“If you suffer a precise beloved subordinate of the household successful specified a tragic and senseless way, you privation to spot the afloat grade of the law, and justness beryllium done,” said Byung J. Pak, a erstwhile U.S. lawyer known arsenic BJay who is representing the families of 2 victims, Yong Ae Yue and Suncha Kim.

The question of whether Mr. Long was motivated by racism oregon sex bias has been a peculiarly delicate 1 due to the fact that the crimes were committed during a clip of heightened interest astir a nationwide question of hate-based episodes targeting Asian Americans.

In July, District Attorney Shannon Wallace of Cherokee County said investigators recovered nary grounds Mr. Long was motivated by racism, but she said she would person pursued enhanced penalties based connected sex bias if Mr. Long’s lawsuit had gone to proceedings there.

The hatred transgression sentencing enhancements Mr. Long whitethorn inactive look successful Fulton County volition person nary worldly effect connected a antheral who indispensable already walk the remainder of his beingness successful situation adjacent if helium is not executed.

The Fulton County lawsuit is 1 of the archetypal times prosecutors person deployed the Georgia hatred transgression law, which was approved past twelvemonth by lawmakers successful effect to the sidesplitting of Ahmaud Arbery, an African American antheral who was fatally changeable aft helium was pursued by 3 achromatic men who suspected him of committing burglaries successful their vicinity extracurricular of Brunswick, Ga.

The willingness of Ms. Willis to question the decease punishment comes aft her declaration arsenic a campaigner for the prosecutor’s occupation successful 2020 that she could not “foresee” a case successful which she would question superior punishment.

The Fulton County indictment against Mr. Long includes 19 full counts, including charges of aggravated battle and home terrorism.

Sean Keenan contributed reporting.

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