Georgia spa murders: Federal investigators struggling to find evidence fitting ‘hate crime’ charges

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ATLANTA, GA – Federal investigators have not yet found evidence that the killing of eight people in three Atlanta massage businesses was a hate crime according to law enforcement officials.

The murder case against Robert Aaron Long, 21, charged in the shooting spree that killed six women of Asian descent and two other people this week, has left investigators struggling to apply the case to Georgia’s new hate crimes law.

Long told police that the killings were not motivated by race and claimed to have a sex addiction which prompted the shootings. Authorities said he claimed that he viewed the massage businesses as sources of temptation but were continuing to investigate the motive.

There has been tremendous pressure on investigators to link the crime to hate crimes statutes, especially from the Asian American community, who have seen an increase in racially motivated attacks since the pandemic began in early 2020.

Aisha Yaqoob Mahmood, Executive Director of the Atlanta-based Asian American Advocacy Fund, commented on the Asian-American anger developing in the community over the killings:

“I think the reason why people are feeling so hopeless is because Asian-Americans have been ringing the bell on this issue for so long. … We’ve been raising the red flag.”

Some in the community were angry Long was not immediately charged with hate crimes. Margaret Huang, president and CEO of the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate groups, said law enforcement needs training:

“(Police need) some training in understanding what a hate crime is. This man identified targets owned by Asians. (Long) was very clearly going after a targeted group of people.”

But law enforcement officials point out that the issue is not so clear. Federal investigators have not yet uncovered evidence supporting a federal hate crime charge, and state investigators are still exploring hate crime charges at the state level.

The Executive Director of the Prosecuting Attorneys’ Council of Georgia explained that the state’s hate crimes law is not a criminal charge, but a sentence enhancement. Pete Skandalakis commented, “It’s not something you get arrested for. It’s a sentence enhancer.”

Georgia law applies an additional penalty for certain crimes if they are motivated by a victim’s race, color, religion, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, gender, or mental or physical disability. Skandalakis said the new law has not yet been tested.

If jurors find that a crime fits a hate crime enhancement, there is a mandatory addition of at least two years in prison and a fine of up to $5,000 for any felony.

Although federal investigators have not ruled out a federal hate crime charge, there are hurdles that must be overcome. Federal law requires prosecutors to prove that the victims were targeted because of specific factors, including race.

The Associated Press reported that two law enforcement officials close to the investigation said no such evidence had been obtained supporting the hate crime charges at this point.

Although the prosecution for the murders usually remains with the state, federal authorities could bring federal hate crime charges independently if it is determined a crime involved targeting a protected group.

Long has been charged with eight counts of murder in Cherokee and Fulton Counties. Cherokee County District Attorney Shannon Wallace and Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis to decide whether to pursue hate crime enhancements.

Officials have identified those killed as Soon Chung Park, 74; Hyun Jung Grant, 51, whom family members identified by her maiden name, Hyun Jung Kim; Suncha Kim, 69; Yong Ae Yue, 63; Delaina Ashley Yaun, 33; Paul Andre Michels, 54; Daoyou Feng, 44; and Xiaojie Tan, 49.

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Elderly Asian woman refuses to become a victim – fights back and puts her attacker in the hospital

March 18, 2021

 

SAN FRANCISCO, CA – 76-year-old Xiao Zhen Xie refused to become the latest victim of violence against Asians in the Bay Area. The elderly woman was attacked and punched by a man in the street Wednesday but fought back, leaving him battered and bloodied on an ambulance stretcher.

The unprovoked attack occurred around 10:30 a.m. in downtown San Francisco. Xie, translated through her daughter Dong-Mei Li for KPIX5, said she was waiting at a traffic signal when the suspect punched her in her left eye.

Although injured, Xie decided not to become a victim and fought back. Her daughter said:

“She found the stick around the area and fought back.”

KPIX5 Sports Director Dennis O’Donnell came upon the scene just after the attack occurred:

“There was a guy on a stretcher and a frustrated angry woman with a stick in her hand.”

O’Donnell captured video of the scene on his cellphone. The video shows Xie holding a large board in one hand and an ice bag in the other. She begins shouting at a man lying on a stretcher with a bloodied face and a stunned look on his face. Xie was shouting in Chinese, “You bum, why did you hit me?”

O’Donnell described the shocking scene:

“There was a guy on a stretcher and a frustrated angry woman with a stick in her hand. From what I could see, she wanted more of the guy on the stretcher and the police were holding her back.”

The attacker was transported to the hospital for his injuries. His condition has not been released.

Xia was also taken to the hospital for injuries sustained in the assault. Li said her mother cannot see out of her left eye and has not been able to eat. Her family said the elderly woman has been afraid since the attack. Her grandson John Chen said:

“As you can see, she is extremely terrified, she’s terrified to even step out.”

The family of Xiao Zhen Xie has set up a GoFundMe page to defray medical costs associated with her injuries. The fund, set up by her grandson, says:

“I am amazed by her bravery. She was the one that defended herself from this unprovoked attack. But she is now suffering two serious black eyes and one that is bleeding unstoppably. Her wrist has also swelled up. She has been severely affected mentally, physically, and emotionally.

“She also stated that she is afraid to step out of her home from now on. This traumatic event has left her with PTSD. Although she has health insurance that covers the basics, there are still many medical expenses that cannot be covered on her own.”

San Francisco police identified the assailant as a 39-year-old San Francisco resident, but did not release his name. Officials said the motive for the attack was not clear, but the man is suspected of attacking an 83-year-old Asian man earlier Wednesday morning.

Police said they are working to determine if race was a factor in the attacks and are investigating the incident as a possible hate crime. Police Chief Bill Scott said:

“We have to do our job and we have to investigate these cases with all resources brought to bear and we need to make arrests, and we’ve done that.”

 

 

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