The man charged with the murder of poker pro Susie “Susie Q” Zhao gets a new trial date. Jeffrey Morris, 61, was supposed to stand trial in June but that has now been moved to September 26 upon request of court-appointed defense attorney Michael McCarthy.
Oakland County Circuit Judge Martha Anderson agreed to the new date at a court hearing on Thursday, with approval from assistant prosecutor Marc Keast.
Morris’s trial was previously repeatedly postponed due to COVID-19 restrictions. Now, the delay was down to McCarthy’s request for more time to prepare as the case was only handed over to him two months ago. He also said that he needed to consider Morris’s new defense claims which were not raised before.
Court-appointed lawyer Pamela Johnson had initially represented Morris in the highly-publicized case for well over a year, but she was later dismissed when she went into private practice. McCarthy took over the case in December 2021.
Zhao was last seen by her mother on July 12, 2020. Her badly burned body was found by two passersby the following day in a remote parking lot in White Lake Township.
Morris was arrested 18 days after the discovery of Zhao’s remains. He was believed to be Zhao’s last companion as they were spotted together at a motel the night before the murder.
The accused killer, a homeless transient with an extensive criminal background convicted of rape in 1989, was initially charged with first-degree premeditated murder. In February 2021, a new felony murder charge was added. Felony murder means killing someone during the commission of any felony.
According to autopsy results, Zhao was brutally murdered by her killer. A preliminary exam conducted by Andrew Hanosh, MD, Oakland County’s deputy medical examiner found that the 33-year-old had been sexually assaulted with her genital area badly damaged. Hanosh also testified that Zhao was alive when she was set on fire. At least 90 percent of her body was burned.
Zhao’s Poker Career
Zhao was a native of Beijing China. She lived in Los Angeles for years, competing in cash games and tournaments in the area. She was well-known in the circuit for her deep runs at the World Series of Poker (WSOP) Main Event. She also appeared occasionally on Live at the Bike.
Throughout her career, Zhao had amassed more than $220,000 in live tournament earnings. Her biggest score was a 90th-place finish in the 2012 WSOP Main Event for $73,085.
When the poker community learned of Zhao’s death, tributes poured in for her, with many saying she’s an excellent player. She was also described by her peers and poker opponents as bubbly and vivacious, a strong and talented player who liked to have fun at the poker table.
Zhao’s horrific death came as a shock to those who knew her, with her former roommate saying it’s difficult to picture her having enemies. She was free-spirited, followed her dreams, and played the game by her own rules.
Police initially investigated whether Zhao’s chosen career had something to do with her brutal murder.
Morris Faces Life in Prison without Parole
After spending several years in LA as a poker pro, Zhao returned to Michigan to be with her family. She would split her time between her parents’ residence in Waterford and the Sherwood Motel where she was last spotted alongside Morris before she was killed.
Morris is held without bail at the Oakland County Jail.
Since there is no death penalty in Michigan, Morris could be sentenced to life in jail without parole if he is found guilty of at least one of the charges.