Jeffery Morris has a trial date. He will be tried for the first-degree murder of poker-pro Susie “Susie Q” Zhao in March next year.
Morris stood for a pretrial hearing yesterday in Michigan’s Oakland County Court. He’ll get another pretrial on February 11 2021. The full trial will follow in late March.
This follows the arraignment hearing and the competency hearing back in September.
Timeline of a murder
Zhao’s body was discovered on the 13th of July 2020 in a Detroit beauty spot.
Her body was badly burned, taking several days to identify. When the news broke it hit the poker community hard. Early speculation that the murder was down to her career in cards quickly gave way to a far darker account.
She had been sexually assaulted and struck by a blunt object. Her tongue was burned and her lungs contained soot — both signs she was alive as she burned. Torture and rape hardly speak to debt collection. Something else was going on.
The day before Zhao’s funeral on the 4th July 2020, the police announced that they had arrested a suspect. Over the next few days the man’s name — Jeffery Morris — came out. As did his record of sexual assault, domestic abuse, and drug abuse.
As he worked his way through the courts, further information about Zhao’s final hours emerged. A late-night trip to a liquor store, the return to a hotel, a few hours in the hotel that are largely unaccounted for. Then Zhao’s phone goes with Morris’s to the park.
They stop at a shop on the way. The shopkeeper later testifies that Morris had shop-lifted petroleum jelly and zip ties.
The next morning Zhao is dead. Bound with zip-ties and burned alive. Petroleum jelly was used as an accelerant.
The wheels of justice turn slowly
The competency hearing in September, determined he could stand trial. That if he committed the crime, he was compos mentis enough to understand what he was doing. After five hours of prosecution evidence, Morris’s attorney called the evidence circumstantial but no witnesses.
Judge Kelly Kostin denied bail, and set yesterday as the next date for deliberations.
Since then theories that Morris may have been a patsy for human trafficking were proposed by trial attorney Jamie White on Court TV.
Although eight months from murder to trial might seem a long wait to a poker community mourning one of its own. This is actually a relatively fast cast.
Many defense attorneys push for delays, allowing memories to fade and tempers to settle. That Michigan has been able to race through this murder trial at such speed — even in the coronavirus clogged courtrooms of 2020 — doesn’t speak well of Morris’s chances.
The court already has worries that they will struggle to find an unbiased jury for such a high profile case.
Though the results of this trial are far from a foregone conclusion, it seems probable that Zhao’s family and the poker community are on their way to some sort of closure.
Featured image source: Flickr