Jeffery Morris saw the inside of a court this week, facing the lawyers and cops who are accusing him of the rape and murder of Susie “Susie Q” Zhao.
This was a preliminary examination, the purpose of which was to work out if there was enough evidence to go to trial. Judge Kelley Kostin of Detroit’s 52-2 District Court brought her gavel down on the side of yes. Morris will have to come back and make his case to a jury of his peers.
Morris had his bail hearing by zoom from a hospital bed. He was laid-up after receiving unspecified injuries during his arrest. This time he was there in person clad in an orange jumpsuit, shackles, and a protective mask.
New witnesses, new evidence
The small hearing room of the district court saw testimony from the men who found the body. One of whom, Ronald Grinwald, stated that he wondered at first if the charred corpse was some kind of “Halloween prank or a mannequin that was burned.”
The examination was also the first time we got a good look at the evidence. FBI Agent George Reinerth had a slideshow presentation showing maps of the area. Cell tower data overlaid on the maps showed how Zhao and Morris had been in touch with each other.
“They were in contact with each other, both utilizing that cell site,” agent Rienerth explained. He went on to show how both Zhao and Morris had been at the same motel that night.
And how in the early hours of the morning, both their phones had moved from there to the Pontiac Lake Recreation Area, where Grinwalf found the body.
“Cellular records consistent with travel from the geographical area of Sherwood over to the geographic area of the body location,” Reinerth said pointing to a series of boxes on the maps.
The coroner’s report
We also got to hear directly from the coroner, Dr. Andrew Hanosh. He video-called into the court for what was the most harrowing of the day’s testimony.
Dr. Hanosh informed the court that Zhao was “extensively burned.” He added, “I would estimate at least 90% of the body’s surface area.”
He also confirmed previous reports that the burns were the cause of Zhao’s death. The flames had burned her tongue, soot and smoke had made its way into her lungs and airways. She was still breathing as she burned.
A shop assistant testified that he believed Morris had shoplifted zip ties and petroleum jelly from his store. Zhao’s killer had used zip ties to bind her, Vaseline is an accelerant. The shop’s cameras confirm Morris did visit that shop.
Someone had assaulted her “private parts, both front and back” — as a local news agency delicately put it. They used a “fist or blunt object” according to the coroner. Police found a bloodied baseball bat in Morris’s car during his arrest.
Morris’s defense attorney, wearing a spray guard, tried to make the case that the evidence was circumstantial. But the judge decided a jury would have to make that decision.
She remanded Morris back into the care of the bailiffs. Morris returns to jail, without bail, while he awaits trial.