Updated May 11, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Prosecutor to seek hate crime charges, death penalty in Atlanta shootings

Photo of a person holding a #StopAsianHate sign at a rally

In Hopkinton, Mass., the Rally & Run To Stop Asian Hate is held to show solidarity in the wake of deadly Atlanta shootings and to mourn the loss of eight lives including six Asian women. Photo: Jonathan Wiggs/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

Prosecutors unveiled murder charges against the white man accused of shooting and killing eight people, six of whom were Asian women, at Atlanta-area spas, AP reports.

Driving the news: A prosecutor filed notice that she plans to seek hate crime charges and the death penalty in the case. Two separate grand juries have now indicted the suspect on murder charges.

A Fulton County grand jury indicted Robert Aaron Long, 22, in the killings of Suncha Kim, Soon Chung Park, Hyun Jung Grant and Yong Ae Yue.

  • Long faces:
    • Four counts of murder
    • Four counts of felony murder
    • Five counts of assault with a deadly weapon
    • Four counts of possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony
    • One count of domestic terrorism
  • Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis filed notice that she plans to seek hate crime charges based on actual or perceived race, national origin, sex and gender, per AP.

A separate grand jury in Cherokee County indicted Long on counts related to the shooting spree that killed Xiaojie Tan, Daoyou Feng, Delaina Yaun and Paul Michels. It's not yet known whether the county's district attorney intends to pursue hate crime charges.

  • Long faces:
    • Four counts of malice murder
    • Four counts of felony murder
    • One count of criminal attempt to commit murder
    • 11 counts of aggravated assault
    • One count of aggravated battery
    • One count of possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony
    • One count of criminal damage to property

What to watch: The high-profile case could test the state's new hate crimes law, which was signed into law last year.

  • According to Georgia law, a hate crime cannot be charged on its own. Only after a person is convicted of an underlying crime can a jury decide the merits of such a charge, which carries an additional penalty.

The big picture: The shootings, which came amid a yearlong spike in anti-Asian hate, increased fear among Asian Americans and sparked outcry across the country.

  • In 16 of the United States' largest cities and counties, reports of anti-Asian hate crimes have surged 164% since this time last year, according to a recent study from the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at Cal State University San Bernardino.
  • In April, the Senate passed a rare bipartisan bill to address anti-Asian hate. The House is expected to take up its version of the legislation in May.

Go deeper: The centuries-long history of anti-Asian racism and violence in the U.S.

Editor's note: This story has been updated with Robert Aaron Long's indictment in Cherokee County.

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