Jeffery Morris, waived his right to an arraignment and pled not guilty to two murder charges on Friday. This means, that his case can move directly to trial. The initial pre-trial hearings will take place on April 15, 2021.
The prosecutors allege that Morris sexually assaulted, tortured, and murdered poker-pro Suzie “Susie Q” Zhao.
After the 52nd District Court reviewed and approved the evidence for an additional felony murder charge, the next step was an arraignment in the Circuit Court. The Circuit judge scheduled the arraignment for March 18, 2021. However, that is no longer happening. Instead, the April 15 appearance in District Court will be the next time Morris appears before a judge.
Passers-by found Zhao’s body, badly burned in a Detroit park on June 13, 2020.
July 3, 2020, the day before Zhao’s funeral, the police arrested Jeffery Morris for the crime. Morris has a long track record of violent and sexual crime.
After cell-phone tower triangulation of Zhao and Morris’s phones seemed to match the murder’s timeline, police moved forward with prosecution. The investigation turned up a large array of DNA and witness evidence that further strengthened the prosecution’s case. The evidence also demonstrated that someone sexually assaulted Zhao and that she was alive when the murderer set her on fire.
The prosecutors claim that DNA evidence appears to show that Morris conducted both the sexual assault and the murder. This allowed the prosecutors to add felony murder charges to the docket.
The charges against Morris are now two counts. The first count is: “Homicide — Murder First Degree — Premeditated. Defendant, on or about July 13, 2020 did, deliberately, with the intent to kill, and with premeditation, kill and murder one Susie Zhao.”
The second count reads as: “Homicide — Felony Murder. Defendant, on or about July 13, 2020 did, while in the perpetration of criminal sexual conduct in the second degree, and, or third-degree, murder one Susie Zhao.”
Felony murder indicates that the murder was conducted while perpetrating another felony, namely sexual assault.
Judge, jury, and turnkey
Circuit Judge Martha Anderson has approved Morris’s plea of not-guilty. The case can now get underway properly. So far, Morris looks to be in a bind. The evidence against him is stacking up.
The prosecution already has 54 witnesses lined up. They also have Morris’ DNA on Zhao’s cervical swab, a blood-stained baseball bat, and a timeline putting him at a store shoplifting zip-ties and accelerant the night before witnesses found Zhao zip-tied and scorched in a park.
Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Jessica Cooper filed additional paperwork which asks the judge to consider Morris’s long rap-sheet during sentencing. Michigan has a three-strikes rule for felonies.
This paperwork is overkill. The prosecutors are already going after a life sentence for each of the charges. Plus, Michigan does not have the death penalty.
We will have further coverage next month, when the trial begins.
Featured image source: Flickr