There was an update this week in the case against 60-year-old Jeffery Morris, who is set to stand trial for the July 2020 murder of poker player Susie “Susie Q” Zhao.
Aileen Wingblad of The Oakland Press reported that the case has been sent back to the district court by Judge Martha Anderson of the Oakland County Circuit Court so that prosecutors can add a new charge of felony murder.
There will now be a preliminary exam regarding the new charge before it can officially be added.
Morris, a convicted sex offender, was already charged with first-degree premeditated murder of the 33-year-old Zhao, whose body was found badly burned and damaged on July 13, 2020. According to an autopsy, Zhao was burned alive and had been sexually assaulted.
Police in White Lake, Michigan subsequently arrested Morris following the highly publicized murder. The new charge of felony murder – which means murdering someone while committing a felony – is essentially chief assistant prosecuting attorney David Williams hedging his bet as the more charges the better chance Morris will be convicted on at least one of them. Michigan does not have the death penalty, meaning Morris faces the possibility of imprisonment for life without the possibility of parole.
Zhao was known in poker for a few deep World Series of Poker Main Event runs and occasional appearances on the live-streamed cash game “Live at the Bike.” She had reportedly moved back in with family in Michigan after spending previous years as a regular cash player in the L.A. area.
According to The Hendon Mob, Zhao had amassed $222,671 in lifetime tournament earnings, including a career-best $73,805 for finishing 90th in the 2012 WSOP Main Event.
Details of the Case
In a press conference held last year, police said Zhao and Morris met the night before the murder at a motel at which Zhao had visited on multiple occasions. At the time, police said the investigation into any possible relationship between the two remains ongoing.
They also said Zhao’s poker or other gambling activities aren’t believed to be a factor in the case.
Morris claimed that after spending time with Zhao at Sherwood Motel, where they consumed alcohol, that she left around midnight “and took all of her belongings including her cell phone with her.” However, cell phone records indicated that it did not leave the property until around 5 a.m., which is when surveillance footage revealed Morris drove to the state park where Zhao’s remains were found.
Potential evidence was also discovered in Morris’ vehicle. Also discovered were duffle bags containing an apparently-bloodied bed sheet and a wooden baseball bat. Both items are being tested at a crime lab.
Morris is currently being held without bail at the Oakland County Jail with his next court date to be determined.
*Lead image Facebook; Oakland County Sheriff’s Office.