Death penalty awaits spa shooter in Fulton as he is sentenced to life in Cherokee
In an agreement that spared him a death sentence, Cherokee County Superior Court Judge Ellen McElyea sentenced Robert Aaron Long to serve four consecutive life sentences, plus 35 years, without the possibility of parole. With this case behind him, what awaits Long is a trial in Fulton County where that District Attorney is planning to seek the death penalty for the murders he committed in Fulton. Long, 22, is accused of fatally shooting eight people at three metro Atlanta spas on March 16 of this year.
In the Cherokee Courtroom, he pled guilty to four of the murders and causing injury to a fifth person at Youngs Asian Massage near Woodstock. Killed were Xiaojie “Emily” Tan, 49, Daoyou Feng, 44, Delaina Yaun, 33, and Paul Michels, 54. Elcias Hernandez-Ortiz was left injured. In describing the crime, Long told the court that Michels was his first victim who was shot as Long exited a bathroom and saw him leaning over a counter. Cherokee County District Attorney Shannon Wallace said the others were shot as Long made his way from the back of the building to the front.
Regarding the upcoming trial in Fulton County, D.A. Attorney Fani Willis said she will seek the death penalty for the murders of four Asian women at two Atlanta spas. She will also seek hate crime charges against Long. Regardless of the deal in Cherokee, Willis made clear early on Fulton County plans to seek the ultimate punishment. Willis said the families of the four victims in Atlanta are in agreement with her to seek the death penalty. “I spent 10 hours with the victims’ families. I’m completely confident they support me in this,” Willis said. “I think these victims deserve a thorough examination of what happened and why it happened.” She went on to say that the victims’ families are willing to wait for a trial and a possible death sentence and is confident her team has enough evidence to convict Long on all charges.
Following Long’s sentencing, Cherokee D.A. Wallace said the families of the shooting victims wanted “swift justice,” rather than enduring a trial. She honored the wishes of the Cherokee County victims’ families and the survivors and added that despite an extensive investigation by the FBI and Cherokee prosecutors, there was not enough evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Long’s actions were racially motivated. Of the four people killed in Cherokee, two were Asian women.
Many in the Asian community questioned the Cherokee County plea deal and raised doubt that victims were receiving justice. They pointed to cultural differences in understanding why a plea deal would be sought in such a heinous crime by one office (Fulton) but not by another (Cherokee).
Long was advised not to make any statements because of his impending trial in Fulton. One of Long’s court-appointed defense attorneys, Zachary Smith, said “It is our hope that the Fulton County District Attorney follows D.A. Wallace’s example and agrees to a similar resolution in that county.” Co-counsel Daran Burns had asked the judge to accept the plea deal outlined by Cherokee County District Attorney, saying Long understands “the gravity of his actions.”
Following the killings in Cherokee, Long drove to Atlanta to continue his shooting spree at businesses he had frequented. In the Fulton case, Long is accused of killing three women at Gold Spa on Piedmont Avenue and another at Aromatherapy Spa across the street. All of the Atlanta victims were women of Asian descent. After the killings, Long’ fled to Crisp County, about 150 miles south of Atlanta, where he was captured. He would later tell authorities that his sexual addiction clashed with his strict religious upbringing, which he blamed for the killing sprees.
Long is scheduled to be arraigned on August 23 in a Fulton court on the remaining murder charges. He’s charged with four counts of murder, aggravated assault, domestic terrorism, and possession of a weapon during the commission of a felony.