The trial of Jeffery B. Morris, who is accused of the gruesome murder of pro poker player Susie Zhao in 2020, has begun a week’s worth of official pre-trial proceedings in advance of the actual murder trial, which will begin on Monday, October 2, in Michigan.
Morris has remained in custody without bail since August of 2020, when he was arrested near Pontiac, Michigan. Morris’s arrest came several days after the discovery of Zhao’s bound and burned body in the parking lot of a forest preserve just west of Pontiac, in Detroit’s far northwestern suburbs. Forensic evidence, surveillance footage, and cel phone records all linked Morris to Zhao in the hours leading up to her killing.
Zhao, 33, had returned to Michigan to live with her parents after an extended poker downturn in Los Angeles and Las Vegas cash games and tourneys. The popular “Susie Q” also appeared as a guest commentator on the Bicycle Casino’s “Live at the Bike!” streamed game. She had been in Michigan little more than a month before the discovery of her body on the morning of July 13, 2020, in the Pontiac Lake State Recreation Area parking lot. An autopsy showed she had been sexually assaulted before being bound, doused in gasoline, and burned.
Morris faces two felony charges for the alleged killing, felony murder and first-degree premeditated murder. The addition of the second charge after evidentiary hearing contributed to a paperwork error that led to one of several delays in the case, in which Morris has been represented by multiple court-appointed attorneys. Morris has a long criminal history, including sex-related crimes, in Michigan and Florida.
Recent minor adjournment moves trial start to October 3
Morris’s murder case had been pushed back to a planned September 26 start, but the court docket shows a recent one-week adjournment, to Monday, October 3, was granted in April. Morris’s current attorney had petitioned the court for extra time to investigate claimed new evidence in the case. The earlier filing error, which caused the case to be remanded to its original Oakland County (MI) court for correction, and a general pandemic-related slowdown also contributed to the two-year gap between arrest and trial.
In August, Morris’s counsel filed a motion to dismiss the case. That motion was denied by presiding judge Martha D. Anderson. However, Judge Anderson did approve a motion by prosecutors seeking to introduce information about some of Morris’s other crimes into the case. Morris pled not guilty to the charges, but faces life in prison if convicted.
In addition to pretrial motions, which are taking up a good share of this week’s pretrial proceedings, Judge Anderson is also dealing with miscellaneous matters. At least two film crews, likely from metro Detroit outlets, have requested permission to be present during the trial. The case’s grisly and sensational details have made it a high-profile news story throughout Michigan, in addition to the case’s interest and impact within the poker world.
Featured image source: Oakland County, Michigan