The man charged with killing eight in mass shootings across the Atlanta area has pleaded guilty to the first four deaths in court.
Robert Aaron Long, 22, is accused of a murderous rampage in three Georgia massage parlours, where he allegedly shot and killed eight victims, six of who were women of Asian descent.
Mr Long took responsibility for the first four of the killings at Cherokee County, reports Bloomberg.
The prosecutor said the defendant had signed a plea deal admitting to all of the charges in Cherokee County, including malice murder, felony murder, attempt to commit murder and aggravated assault.
The plea allows him to negotiate life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Mr Long faces still faces the death penalty if convicted of the other four shooting deaths in Atlanta. He is scheduled to appear next month in Fulton County, where he faces charges of murder and domestic terrorism with a hate crime enhancement, based on the actual or perceived race, national origin, sex and gender of the four women killed.
In the early evening of March 16, 2020, Mr Long is accused of embarking on a shooting spree, beginning at Youngs Asian Massage near Woodstock, according to police reports. There he allegedly fatally shot four people, three of them women and two of Asian descent. He also shot and wounded a fifth person.
Mr Long then drove to Atlanta, where he is accused of shooting and killing three more women at Gold Spa before crossing the road to Aromatherapy Spa and fatally shooting another. All of the Atlanta victims were women of Asian descent.
Georgia’s new hate crime law, which was enacted last summer, does not provide for a stand-alone hate crime. Once someone has been convicted of a crime, the jury must decide whether it was motivated by the victim’s victim’s race, colour, religion, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, gender, or mental or physical disability. If so, the crime carries an additional penalty.
Mr Long told police at the time that his attack was not racially motivated and a Cherokee sheriff’s spokesman said it did not appear to be a hate crime.
“He apparently has an issue, what he considers a sex addiction, and sees these locations as something that allows him to go to these places, and it’s a temptation for him that he wanted to eliminate,” Cherokee sheriff’s Capt. Jay Baker told reporters at the time. He also said Mr Long was having a “really bad day”.
Mr Baker’s comments were met with shock and outrage, and widely condemned for minimising the crime. He was removed from the case.
Those killed at the Cherokee County spa were Xiaojie “Emily” Tan, 49; Daoyou Feng, 44; Delaina Yaun, 33; and Paul Michels, 54. The Atlanta victims were Suncha Kim, 69; Soon Chung Park, 74; Hyun Jung Grant, 51; and Yong Ae Yue, 63.
Georgia State Representative Bee Nguyen, said the shootings appeared to be at the “intersection of gender-based violence, misogyny and xenophobia”.