A judge in the Michigan approved a charge of felony murder on Monday against defendant Jeffery Bernard Morris, 60, in the killing of poker player Susie Zhao, 33. New testimony in the case reinforced a prior theme from investigators: Zhao’s death was not just a grisly homicide; it also involved a sexual assault.
White Lake police Detective Thomas Sarasin told the court that the defendant’s cell phones showed downloads of violent sexual penetration videos before his meeting with Zhao, according to The Oakland Press.
Investigators previously said that the late poker player, who was found at the Pontiac Lake Park last July 13 bound with zip-ties and had set on fire while still alive, had also been sexually assaulted by a large object.
Prosecutors are attempting to using details from the sexual video to show Morris’s state of mind before the crime.
“When you look at the defendant’s history, where he’s looking up these violent . . . videos just prior to picking up Miss Zhao and coming in contact with her the evening of July 12, 2020 . . . . That evidence is quite telling as to what he’s thinking of doing right before he gets to her,” Prosecuting attorney Kenneth Frazee III said according to Hometown Life.
Morris is a sex offender found guilty in 1989 of criminal sexual conduct in the third degree.
— Law & Crime (@lawcrimenews) August 13, 2020
The details coming out about Susie Zhao’s murder are truly horrifying. My heart goes out to her family & loved ones & those of you in the poker community who knew her & are having to process all of this.
There is no justice after something like this but I hope she’s at peace.
— Kara Scott (@KaraOTR) August 12, 2020
Cops said cell phone records put Zhao and Morris together on July 12. Morris is said to have claimed he and Zhao checked into a motel together, purchased alcohol at a store, and returned to the motel. Zhao left at midnight, Morris allegedly claimed.
Police said they caught Morris in a contradiction: he said Zhao took her phone with her, but in fact, the device remained at the motel until about 5 a.m. Other evidence allegedly put Morris at the park for about seven minutes on the 13th.
In arguing against the felony murder charge, defense lawyer Pamela Johnson noted a second male DNA contributor from a swab. Johnson also suggested another person may have used the defendant’s phone.
Judge Kelley Kostin sided with the prosecution and ruled that there was enough evidence to take the case to trial.
“The court is satisfied,” she said. “The prosecution has met its burden.”
Morris is charged with first-degree murder.
[Mugshot of Morris via Michigan sex offender registry; screengrab of Zhao via Live at the Bike]
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