CNN  — 

Robert Aaron Long, the suspect in the shootings that left eight people dead at three Atlanta-area Asian spas, has been indicted on murder charges, with prosecutors seeking the death penalty for hate crimes targeting the sex and race of the victims.

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis filed notice with the Fulton Superior Court on Tuesday that she plans to seek the death penalty and enhanced hate crimes charges against Long in the first test of a hate crime law passed by the Georgia Legislature last year.

“I, along with my staff, have made a determination that this office will seek the death penalty,” Willis told reporters. “Last year, I told the voters of Fulton County that I could not imagine a circumstance where I would seek it. And at that time I did not.”

“Unfortunately, a case has arisen in the first few months of my term that I believe warrants the ultimate penalty,” she added. Further, we have filed a notice that we will seek sentence enhancement, pursuant to Georgia’s sentencing enhancement statute, commonly referred to as a hate crime statute, based on the race and gender of the victims.”

Willis said this is the law’s first application in Fulton County and, she believes, in the state.

Willis said she is comfortable with the sentencing decision.

“I have personally walked the crime scene in this case,” she told reporters. “I have spent more than six hours with the families involved in this case. We have reviewed the evidence, and I am comfortable in the decision that this is an appropriate sentence to seek.”

Willis added, “The message that I hope we are sending is, It does not matter your ethnicity. It does not matter what side of the tracks you come from. It does not matter your wealth. You will be treated as an individual with value.”

Stop AAPI Hate, a national coalition against anti-Asian racism, said in a statement that while AAPI hate persists women continue to report incidents at a disproportionate rate “in no small part due to the combination of racism and misogyny Asian American women experience.”

“As our hearts still ache from the tragic Atlanta Spa Shootings, in which six Asian American women were murdered, we acknowledge the importance of Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis’ decision to seek hate crime charges against Robert Aaron Long on the basis of both race and gender,” the statement said.

Long also indicted in Cherokee County

Long was also indicted in Cherokee County on four counts of malice murder, four counts of felony murder, 11 counts of criminal attempt to commit murder and aggravated assault, and aggravated battery, possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony, and criminal damage to property in the first degree.

The new law specifies enhanced penalties for crimes where victims were targeted for, among other things, race, gender, and sexual orientation. Seven of the victims killed in the spa shootings were women, and six of the victims were women of Asian descent.

Some public officials had early on raised concerns that ethnicity had come into play in the shootings, particularly given a nationwide spike in anti-Asian violence during the coronavirus pandemic.

Long, 21, of Woodstock, Georgia, is suspected of opening fire at the spas on the afternoon and early evening of March 16, first at a business about 30 miles northwest of Atlanta, followed by two more at spas in northeastern Atlanta.

Long indicted on 19 counts in Fulton County