The man charged with shooting dead eight people in three Atlanta, Georgia, spas in March has pleaded guilty to murdering four of the victims.
Robert Aaron Long made the plea as part of an agreement with state prosecutors who have recommended a sentence of four life terms without the possibility of parole.
However, they are seeking the death penalty for Long, 22, if he is convicted on the other four counts.
Six of the victims of the attack on March 16 were women of Asian descent but Long has said his attack was not racially motivated.
Police say Long shot and killed three women and a man at Young’s Asian Massage near Woodstock, Georgia. He then drove to the state capital Atlanta, where he shot dead three women at the Gold Spa and another woman at the Aromatherapy Spa.
Long pleaded guilty to murdering four people during his court appearance on Tuesday.
District attorney Shannon Wallace said he claimed he was motivated by a “sex addiction” and his desire to eliminate sources of his temptation, according to the AP.
She said all the evidence suggested that “this crime was not motivated by a bias or hate against Asian Americans”.
However, district attorney Fani Willis has already said Long targeted the victims because of their race, national origin and gender. She says she will seek the death penalty.
There has been an ongoing increase in racially-motivated attacks against Asian Americans throughout the pandemic.
In late 2020, the UN issued a report detailing an “alarming level” of racially-motivated violence and other hate incidents against Asian Americans leading them to become more fearful for their safety.
In May, US President Joe Biden signed the Covid-19 Hate Crimes Act that aims to address the rising number of anti-Asian attacks.
As well as the spa murders, an elderly Thai immigrant died after being shoved to the ground and kicked. A Filipino-American was slashed in the face with a box cutter. A Chinese woman was slapped and set on fire.
From being spat on and verbally harassed to incidents of physical assault, there have been thousands of reported cases in recent months.
Advocates and activists say these are hate crimes, and often linked to rhetoric that blames Asian people for the spread of Covid-19.