Suspect in Atlanta Spa Killings Pleads Not Responsible to 4 Counts of Homicide

ATLANTA — A 22-year-old man dealing with the dying penalty for a capturing rampage at a string of spas within the Atlanta space pleaded not responsible to 4 homicide costs on Tuesday, elevating the potential of a protracted court docket battle over one in every of the deadliest U.S. mass shootings of 2021.

The person, Robert Aaron Lengthy, had previously pleaded guilty to four murder counts and different prison costs in Cherokee County, the place the March 16 capturing spree started at a suburban strip mall. He was sentenced to 4 consecutive life sentences plus 35 years for these crimes.

However Mr. Lengthy additionally faces 4 further homicide costs stemming from assaults dedicated within the metropolis of Atlanta, the place the Fulton County prosecutor, Fani T. Willis, is in search of the dying penalty.

Mr. Lengthy admitted to the shootings, which left eight individuals lifeless, shortly after his seize, according to law enforcement. In a earlier court docket look, he stated that he struggled to regulate his urges to see prostitutes and use pornography, and stated that he dedicated the killings to “punish” intercourse trade employees.

Ms. Willis’s workplace is in search of enhanced penalties for the Atlanta killings, arguing that Mr. Lengthy focused the victims due to their “actual or perceived race, national origin, sex and gender.” Mr. Lengthy is white; six of the individuals killed, together with all the Atlanta victims, have been girls of Asian descent.

Mr. Lengthy appeared in a downtown Atlanta courtroom on Tuesday in a listening to that lasted just some minutes. He was sporting a face masks, glasses and a grey go well with jacket. He opted to not communicate, preferring to permit one in every of his attorneys to enter his not responsible plea on his behalf.

Mr. Lengthy’s earlier plea, in July, was a part of a deal that allowed him to keep away from going to trial in Cherokee County, the place prosecutors stated they, too, would have pursued the dying penalty. Ms. Willis has stated that attorneys for Mr. Lengthy had approached her workplace in search of an analogous association.

However whereas Ms. Willis, a Democrat, has stated she is mostly open to contemplating plea offers, she has indicated that she is going to proceed to pursue the dying penalty in Mr. Lengthy’s case, a minimum of for now. A few of the victims’ relations additionally imagine that execution is the correct punishment for Mr. Lengthy.

“If you lose a very beloved member of the family in such a tragic and senseless way, you want to see the full extent of the law, and justice be done,” stated Byung J. Pak, a former U.S. legal professional often known as BJay who’s representing the households of two victims, Yong Ae Yue and Suncha Kim.

The query of whether or not Mr. Lengthy was motivated by racism or gender bias has been a very delicate one as a result of the crimes have been dedicated throughout a time of heightened concern a few nationwide wave of hate-based episodes concentrating on Asian Individuals.

In July, District Lawyer Shannon Wallace of Cherokee County stated investigators discovered no proof Mr. Lengthy was motivated by racism, however she stated she would have pursued enhanced penalties primarily based on gender bias if Mr. Lengthy’s case had gone to trial there.

The hate crime sentencing enhancements Mr. Lengthy should face in Fulton County can have no materials impact on a person who should already spend the remainder of his life in jail even when he isn’t executed.

The Fulton County case is without doubt one of the first occasions prosecutors have deployed the Georgia hate crime regulation, which was permitted final yr by lawmakers in response to the killing of Ahmaud Arbery, an African American man who was fatally shot after he was pursued by three white males who suspected him of committing burglaries of their neighborhood outdoors of Brunswick, Ga.

The willingness of Ms. Willis to hunt the dying penalty comes after her declaration as a candidate for the prosecutor’s job in 2020 that she could not “foresee” a case by which she would search capital punishment.

The Fulton County indictment in opposition to Mr. Lengthy consists of 19 whole counts, together with costs of aggravated assault and home terrorism.

Sean Keenan contributed reporting.

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