May 11, 2022

Accused killer of former pro poker player ‘Susie Q’ gets new trial date

A new trial date has been set for a man accused of killing a former professional poker player whose burnt remains were found at a state recreation area in White Lake Township in 2020.

In Oakland County and elsewhere, trials have been suspended due to restrictions imposed by reported COVID-19 infection rates. Among them is the case against Jeffery Morris, 61, charged with murder and first-degree premeditated murder in the death of 30-year-old Susie “Susie Q” Zhao. A criminal murder is a murder during the commission of another crime. In this case, the prosecution alleges that Morris is linked to a sexual assault suffered by Zhao before his death.

Jeffery Morris via Zoom from Oakland County Jail for a preliminary hearing. (Aileen Wingblad/MediaNews Group)

At a hearing on Thursday, Oakland County Circuit Judge Martha Anderson scheduled the trial to begin on September 26. The trial had been postponed several times before due to COVID-19 restrictions at the courthouse. And more recently, it was scheduled for this June – but the judge agreed to a later date at the request of defense attorney Michael McCarthy.

McCarthy, court-appointed to represent Morris, told the judge he had the case for just two months due to the firing of former court-appointed lawyer Pamela Johnson because she was moving into private practice .

“My predecessor had the case for over a year,” McCarthy said, asking for a later date. McCarthy also said Morris raised “investigative issues…which apparently hadn’t been raised before” as well as other reasons why a delay was warranted to give him more time to prepare.

Assistant District Attorney Marc Keast had no objection to the new date.

Passers-by found the burned remains of Susie Zhao on July 13, 2020 in this DNR parking lot near Maceday and Cross Roads in White Lake Township. (Aileen Wingblad/MediaNews Group)

Zhao’s murder was determined to be particularly brutal, based on the results of the autopsy. During a preliminary examination in 2020, Andrew Hanosh, MD, assistant medical examiner for Oakland County, testified that Zhao had been sexually assaulted and suffered extensive damage to her genital area. He also said that at least 90% of Zhao’s body had been burned and that she was alive when she was set on fire, as indicated by soot in her airways and other findings.

Morris, described by police as a transient homeless man with an extensive criminal record, was arrested on July 31, 2020, 18 days after two bystanders discovered Zhao’s remains in a DNR parking lot. Morris’ past run-ins with the law include a 1989 rape conviction in Pontiac.

As a professional poker player, Zhao has participated in the main events of the World Series of Poker. She had live winnings of $224,671, according to Herndon Mob, a poker database.

Zhao’s Facebook page said she attended Cranbrook Kingswood School in Bloomfield Hills and later studied psychology at Northwestern University. He also said she lives in Los Angeles and is originally from Beijing, China.

The Sherwood Motel on Dixie Highway in Waterford, where police said Susie Zhao was known to frequent. (Aileen Wingblad/MediaNews Group)

Police say she returned to Oakland County shortly before her death. She split her time between her parents’ home in Waterford and the Sherwood Motel in Waterford, where she and Morris had been together before she was killed, police said.

Sherwood is being held in the Oakland County Jail without bond.