Atlanta spa shooting suspect argues he's too young to be sentenced to death

Robert Aaron Long is seen during his arraignment in Fulton County Superior Court on Tuesday, Sept. 28, 2021, in Atlanta. The man already sentenced to life in prison after pleading guilty to fatally shooting four people at a massage business outside Atlanta pleaded not guilty to shooting four others on the same day at two spas inside the city. (Elijah Nouvelage/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP, Pool)

Attorneys for the man accused of killing four people in Fulton County in the 2021 spa shootings say he shouldn’t face the death penalty because he was too young at the time to know what he was doing.

Robert Aaron Long, now 24, is due back in court Friday, Oct. 20, for a motions hearing. He is being represented by the Georgia Capital Defender’s Office.

Court records filed last week show Long’s defense is arguing that he was prone to impulsive behavior because he was 21 years old when he was arrested for capital murder and his brain had not fully developed.

The defense is asking the judge to consider Long for “late adolescent death penalty eligibility” based on a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in 2005, stating it was “unconstitutional to seek the death penalty against persons under the age of 18.”

It argues the execution would violate Eighth Amendment protections against cruel and unusual punishment.

“The Supreme Court’s decision was founded on an understanding of brain development and how it impacts behavior and decision-making,” it states.

“Eighteen years later the science the Supreme Court relied on in [Roper v. Simmons] has become more refined and advanced. New findings by the American Psychological Association… demands another look at when the state should find someone’s brain is developed enough to warrant execution for their crimes.”

Prosecutors say Long’s age is irrelevant. However, they have agreed to allow the defense to make their argument at a future pre-trial hearing. At least one more motions hearing has been scheduled so far for later this month. No trial date has been set.

Long is already serving a life sentence after pleading guilty to the murders of four people in Cherokee County in 2021. Most of the victims were of Asian descent.

But, he has pleaded not guilty in Fulton, where he faces hate crime charges and the death penalty.

The last time Georgia executed a person was in 2020. According to the Georgia Department of Corrections, there are currently 37 men and 1 woman on death row.