More evidence in Zhao murder case indicates torture and sexual assault

Jon Pill
Posted on: August 13, 2020 11:27 PDT

Zip-tied and burned

New court documents dug up by WXYZ-TV’s 7 Action News provide a list of evidence that adds up to a harrowing timeline of Susie Zhao’s final night.

Much of the information comes from phone records which track both Zhao and her alleged killer as they went about their evenings, running counter to suspect Jeffery Morris’s account. The timeline alleged to him has him pick Zhao up on Watkins Lake Road on the outskirts of Detroit.

He reportedly claimed they checked into the Sherwood Motel — just a few minutes’ drive away, according to Google Maps — at 9:26 PM on the 12th.

Morris says they nipped out for some booze later in the eve, then Zhao headed home with her phone at around midnight. The phone is key here because the new evidence makes extensive use of phone records.

Zhao’s body was found, zip-tied and burned, at 8:05 AM on the 13th. She had been left in a local beauty spot and was discovered by a jogger. Police identified her by her fingerprints and say there was evidence she'd been sexually assaulted by a large, blunt object.

When Morris was arrested, among his effects were a fitted sheet and a baseball bat — a large blunt object if ever there was one. Both bat and sheet showed traces of what might be blood. They're now in the local crime lab for testing.

New evidence

Morris has a long rap sheet that includes violence and sexual assault. He was homeless at the time of the murder, because his hosts had put him out on the street a few days before. They claimed he had been violent, though they didn't specify how.

According to the court documents, Morris’s story falls apart at midnight. He claims Zhao left at 12. However, phone tracking data shows Zhao’s phone remained at the motel.

It was only around 5 AM that the phone moved. At that time Morris and Zhao’s phones left the Motel together. They were then tracked to the park. Morris remained at the park for seven minutes and then left.

How Morris came into contact with Zhao is still unclear. So too, the motivation for her rape, torture, and murder. But the case of the prosecution is otherwise looking pretty clear cut.

According to the documents, Morris was apparently with the victim all night. His phone puts him at the site where the body was discovered. The documents also demonstrate he lied about when Zhao left. The "physical effects" listed in them may include the murder weapon and the victim's blood.

We will have to wait for the court to set a date for the trial. Only then can we hope to know the last few details.