WASHINGTON - The man accused of killing eight people at a string of Atlanta-area spas pleaded guilty on Tuesday to four murder charges, ensuring he will spend the rest of his life in prison, US court documents showed.
A judge in Cherokee County, Georgia, where one of the spas was located, sentenced Robert Aaron Long to four life sentences without parole, plus 35 years, based on a plea deal that spared the 22-year-old from the death penalty, the sentencing document read.
However, Long could still face capital punishment for the killing of four other victims in Fulton County, where Atlanta is located, with the district attorney saying she will seek the death penalty as well as an enhanced sentence for hate crimes.
Defense lawyer Daran Burns had urged the Cherokee County judge to accept the plea deal, saying Long understands "the gravity of his actions," local daily the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.
Long was arrested hours after opening fire in three Asian massage parlors on March 16 in Atlanta and its surroundings, later admitting to the crime.
Six of the eight victims were women of Asian origin, with Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis saying in a court filing that Long selected his victims because of their "actual or perceived race, national origin, sex and gender."
However, during his interrogation, Long, who is white, denied he had been motivated by racial hatred, claiming instead he had a sexual addiction and wanted to "eliminate" a temptation that put him in conflict with his strict religious beliefs.
OUT OF 'SHAME'
He reiterated this before Judge Ellen McElyea on Tuesday, saying he had bought a gun on March 16 to kill himself out of "shame," the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.
Parked outside Young's Asian Massage, which he used to frequent, he downed bourbon, hoping he would "hate myself enough at that point... to end my own life," the daily cited him as saying.
He told the judge it was at this moment he started to think about killing others, to "stop the places (spas) and basically punish the people inside," he added.
The four victims of the attack on Young's Asian Massage in the Atlanta suburb of Acworth included Xiaojie Tan, the spa's 49-year-old owner and Delaina Yaun, 33 -- a mother of two who was at the spa for a couple's massage with her husband.
The shooting also claimed the lives of 44-year-old employee Daoyou Feng and Paul Andre Michels, 54, who was on site doing maintenance.
Long has been charged with killing four other women at two neighboring spas in Atlanta,
The targeting of women of Asian origin stoked fears in an Asian-American population already alarmed by a surge in hate crimes during the coronavirus pandemic.
The crime sparked rallies of thousands of people in major cities in the United States and Canada days after the shooting to denounce anti-Asian racism.
© Agence France-Presse