Legal expert says attorneys could focus on insanity defense for spa shooting suspect

The calls for justice grow louder and more passionate by the day as many outraged by the murder of eight people at Asian-owned spas insist Robert Aaron Long's shooting spree was a hate crime.

"A 21-year-old white man targeted three Asian businesses, driving 40 minutes from one spa to another, passing other adult entertainment businesses. This was an attack on the Asian community," Georgia State Representative Bee Nguyen said during a unity rally in Atlanta days after the shooting rampage on March 16.

Six of the murder victims were Asian women. According to Cherokee County investigators, the 21-year-old murder suspect claimed his sex addiction drove him to pull the trigger at businesses in Cherokee County and Buckhead. A former halfway house roommate said Long previously spoke about struggling with sexual urges when they were in treatment together.

"He said he went to one of these places and felt like he was falling out of God's grace," the former roommate said.

A makeshift memorial outside the Aromatherapy Spa in Atlanta days after a deadly shooting rampage on March 16, 2021. (Austin McAfee / FOX 5)

Veteran defense attorney Sandy Wallack is not connected to the murder cases but said Long's defense team has a lot to research as they mount their defense against a man who some believe should be charged under Georgia's Hate Crime law. Others believe the Cherokee County man deserves the death penalty.

"Whether it was racially motivated or not, there are some significant issues there, because if it wasn't racially motivated, it was violence directed at women," Wallack said, adding the case will take months, if not years for attorneys to investigate.

The Cherokee County Office of Indigent Defense assigned Canton attorney J. Daran Burns to the case days after Long was arrested and confessed. Burns emailed a statement to news outlets reading in part:

"Our firm has been in Cherokee County for twenty-five years, and when tragedy happens in our community, we feel it. Our condolences are with the victims and their families. We are working on behalf of our client, Robert Aaron Long, to investigate the facts and circumstances surrounding this incident."

A makeshift memorial outside the Gold Spa in Atlanta days after a deadly shooting rampage on March 16, 2021. (Austin McAfee / FOX 5)

Burns has not commented on camera about his client, who is being held without bond on murder and aggravated assault charges. Investigators determined Long opened fire and killed four people inside a massage parlor in Cherokee County before he drove to Piedmont Road in Atlanta where he shot four other victims at two parlors located across the street from one another. Investigators believe Long was headed to Florida to commit more crimes when he was arrested in Crisp County hours after the rampage. Attorney Wallack said Long's defense team will likely start their investigation by hiring experts to evaluate Long's mental health to determine if an insanity plea is appropriate.

"You have to get to know your client and get to know who they are and what caused them to act the way they did. Here we have Mr. Long has admitted doing the shootings, so they're going to have to focus on why he did what he did," said Wallack. "You're trying to look at what was going on in his mind and what was going on in his world."

Long waived his first court appearance and remains in the Cherokee County jail as he waits for the date for his next court hearing.

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