A new trial date has finally been set for Jeffery Bernard Morris, the accused murderer of poker pro Susie Zhao. In a hearing held yesterday in an Oakland County, Michigan courtroom, Morris’s trial has been scheduled to begin on September 26, 2022.
Morris, a 61-year-old drifter with a lengthy criminal record in both Michigan and Florida, has been held without bail since being arrested August 1, 2020 near Pontiac, Michigan. Morris was arrested a few weeks after the burned body of Zhao was discovered in the parking area of a forest preserve west of Pontiac. In the weeks following the discovery of Zhao’s s body, which also showed signs of sexual assault, authorities unraveled a trail of evidence that led solely to Morris.
Morris faces two charges that could bring him a lifetime sentence if found guilty. He was charge first with felony murder, and later, with first-degree premeditated murder, due to the nature of Zhao’s killing. The 30-year-old Zhao had returned from Los Angeles to the northwestern Detroit suburbs only weeks prior to her murder, to live with family.
Trial process plagued with delays, new attorney onboard
Morris’s trial has already been delayed on multiple occasions. Two separate pandemic-related postponements have occurred, and his case was also pushed back due to a clerical error when the second murder charge was not properly recorded into his records.
A change in defense counsel has also added to the delays. Morris has been represented by the Oakland County public defenders office. Morris’s initial attorney, Pamela Johnson also requested a delay last year to explore a defense claim Morris offered, and she recently went into private practice. Johnson has since been dismissed from representing Morris.
A new public defender, Michael McCarthy, took over Morris’s case in December. Yesterday, McCarthy told the case’s presiding judge, Oakland County Circuit Judge Martha Anderson, that he still needed more time to prepare Morris’s defense. As a result, and with no objections from prosecutors, the judge then agreed to move the date further back from its recently-scheduled planned start in June of 2022.
“My predecessor had the case for well over a year,” McCarthy told the judge, according to a local outlet covering Thursday’s hearing. McCarthy also reiterated Morris’s more recent defense claims, citing “investigative issues… that apparently weren’t raised before.”
Featured image source: Oakland County, Michigan