Atlanta

Fulton DA stands by seeking death penalty against alleged spa shooter

ATLANTA — Wednesday will mark one year since a gunman opened fire at spas in Cherokee County and the city of Atlanta, killing eight people. Six were Asian women.

Robert Aaron Long pleaded guilty to the shootings in Cherokee County, but not guilty to the charges in Fulton County.

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis has been pushing for the death penalty and hate crime charges.

Channel 2 investigative reporter Mark Winne spoke exclusively to Willis on Tuesday about the case.

Willis said it’s the first death penalty case she’s pursued since being elected as DA, and it comes after hours of consultation with the victims’ families.

The spa shootings case also marks the first time her office has used the state’s new hate crime law because four of the murder victims were allegedly targeted because they were Asian women.

“When you ran for DA, did you anticipate ever bringing a death penalty case?” Winne asked Willis.

“No. In fact, I told voters I could not imagine a circumstance where I would seek death. I didn’t imagine that less than three months into my term we would have a shooting spree that took the lives of eight people, four of which were in my jurisdiction,” Willis said.

Willis suggests even if she couldn’t imagine a case that would come to her worthy of the death penalty, the crimes of which Long is accused were once unimaginable to her, and that even if she had once never intended to seek the death penalty, the state’s notice of intent to seek the death penalty was the right thing.

“Is there an element of if we don’t seek the death penalty with these allegations, why have it?” Winne asked Willis.

“I think the death penalty is something that should be used very, very sparingly and only in the worst cases, and I think that this case meets that standard,” Willis said.

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A Fulton County indictment charges Long with murder in the shootings of Hyun Jung Grant, Soon Chung Park, Suncha Kim and Yong Ae Yue, and with numerous other counts including domestic terrorism.

Long has pleaded not guilty to every charge in the Fulton County indictment.

“Will his guilty pleas in Cherokee County be something you can use as evidence of similar crimes?” Winne asked Willis.

“Yes,” Willis said.

“This will be the first time your office has used the new hate crime law?” Winne asked Willis.

“Yes. It’s not the only case that the office currently has it filed under, but this was the first time when we filed,” Willis said.

“The hate crimes theory is?” Winne asked Willis.

“That these crimes were motivated by a bias against two communities one being women and the second being Asian Americans,” Willis said.

“Where does the case stand right now?” Winne asked.

“At this time, we are awaiting motions. We expect to do the motions in this case in May of this year,” Willis said.

A transcript shows the defense has indicated it will be challenging some things, filing motions on a number of issues.

“I put two of my top prosecutors on the case -- the executive district attorney over the major crimes division, Mike Carlson -- he comes with more than 25 years of experience, most of that in prosecution, and a young but very, very strong prosecutor, Adam Abate,” Willis said. “I am sure that they will do an amazing job for these families and for this community.”

Reportedly, the Cherokee County Sheriff said Long claimed the shootings were not racially motivated. The DA’s office says a fifth alleged hate crimes victim was Latino, but was not killed.

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