May 11 (Reuters) - (In May 11 story, fixes paragraph 10 to clarify that Stop AAPI Hate supports prosecutor’s intention to pursue hate crime charges, not the death penalty, which the organization opposes)
A Georgia prosecutor said on Tuesday she would seek the death penalty for the man accused of fatally shooting eight people at Atlanta-area spas, six of them women of Asian descent, saying the suspect committed hate crimes.
Robert Aaron Long, 22, was indicted on murder charges in the March 16 killings of four women in Fulton County, Georgia, as well as on aggravated assault and domestic terrorism charges, according to court documents.
He was previously charged with four counts of murder and one count of aggravated assault in Cherokee County, about 40 miles (64 km) north of Atlanta.
In a court filing, Fulton County prosecutor Fani Willis said Long had targeted four women in Atlanta because of their race, national origin and gender.
"Lady Justice in this community is blind," Willis told a news conference after her court filing. "It does not matter your ethnicity, it does not matter the side of the tracks you come from, it does not matter your wealth. You will be treated as an individual with value."
In a separate filing, Willis said she would seek the death penalty against Long.
"Death penalty cases are never easy. This is a long journey. And so the biggest hurdle will just be having stamina, but some journeys are worth taking," Willis said, adding she came to the decision after spending time with the families of the victims and reviewing the evidence.
A lawyer for Long did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
In March, Long told investigators a sex addiction drove him to commit the killings and indicated he frequented spas in the area. Authorities initially declined to name racial animosity as the motive for the massacre, which sent shock waves through the Asian-American community, already rattled by a rise in hate crimes since the COVID-19 pandemic began.
Stop AAPI Hate, a coalition that has tracked rising anti-Asian violence during the pandemic, commended the prosecutor's characterization of the shootings as hate crimes, calling it "important" and stressing the broader need to address "the combination of racism and misogyny Asian American women experience" in the United States.
The bloodshed began with four people killed and another wounded at Young's Asian Massage in Cherokee County. Two Asian-American women were among the dead there, along with a white woman and a white man.
An hour later in Atlanta, police officers responding to a robbery report arrived at the Gold Spa beauty salon to find three women shot dead. The officers were then called to a separate spa across the street where another woman was found fatally shot. All four women killed in Atlanta were of Asian descent.
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