Sex offender sentenced to life in prison for brutal rape and murder of professional poker player, who was burned alive to play out a ‘depraved sexual fantasy’

News & Politics

A sex offender in Michigan was sentenced to life in prison after being convicted of brutally raping and murdering a professional poker player.

On July 13, 2020, the body of professional poker player Susie “Susie Q” Zhao, 33, was discovered in a wooded area of Pontiac Lake State Recreation Area in Lake Township, Michigan. Zhao suffered burns to at least 90% of her body. The body was burned so badly that the men who found the body first thought it was a mannequin.

The woman had been burned alive, according to deputy medical examiner Dr. Andrew Hanosh. He told the court during a preliminary hearing in 2020 that Zhao’s tongue had been burned, her hair had been singed off, and smoke and soot were present in her airways and lungs, leading Hanoush to determine that Zhao was alive when she was set on fire.

Police suspect that Jeffery Bernard Morris, 62, tied her up with zip ties, doused her with gasoline, and burned her alive.

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Phone records showed there were eight calls between Morris and Zhao on July 12, 2020, according to White Lake Police Department detective Thomas Sorasin.

Around 9:26 p.m. on July 12, Morris and Zhao met at the Sherwood Motel in Waterford, Michigan. However, cellphone tower records indicated that they both traveled from the motel to a remote part of the recreational area, according to testimony from an FBI agent.

The autopsy indicated that Zhao was raped so violently that she suffered extensive damage to her genitals from being punched or hit with another object, according to The Daily Mail.

The Oakland Press reported, “During the trial, the prosecution said the rape and slaying was Morris playing out a depraved sexual fantasy. Evidence was presented from his cell phone and internet searches involving brutality against Asian women and slaves, bondage, and more, as well as sexual encounters in remote, wooded areas — similar to where Zhao’s body was found.”

Morris was previously convicted of a sex crime in 1989.

Morris was pulled over and arrested on a warrant on July 31, 2020.

Prosecutors said cellphone tower records pinned Morris to the hotel room he rented and to the Pontiac Lake State Recreation Area. Investigators also discovered DNA from Morris during the autopsy of the slain poker player.

Last month, Morris was convicted of first-degree murder as well as felony murder with an underlying charge of second-degree criminal sexual conduct. On Thursday, Morris was sentenced to life in prison without parole.

During the sentencing, Judge Martha Anderson told Morris, “I cannot get over the brutality of this murder and the needlessness of it all.”

“You took advantage of an individual who was fragile, and basically destroyed everything she had accomplished in her life,” Anderson said.

Zhao had fairly recently been diagnosed with schizophrenia, according to her friends.

Morris told the judge that he planned to appeal.

He told the courtroom, “This time, I’m not gonna say anything. There’s a lot I’d like to say. This time I’m not gonna say anything. I’ll wait till I come back for an appeal and begin again.”

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New details emerge about murdered professional poker player’s final hours

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