Jeffery Bernard Morris, the 62-year-old transient who was convicted last month of the brutal 2020 murder of poker pro Susie Zhao, was sentenced to life in prison without parole on Thursday in an Oakland County, Michigan courtroom.
Morris received the formal sentence in the case from Oakland County Circuit Court Judge Martha Anderson, who presided over Morris’s trial last month. Morris’s sentence was mandated under Michigan law, after he was convicted of two murder charges — first-degree premeditated murder and felony murder — in connection with Zhao’s murder.
Zhao’s burned remains were discovered on the morning of July 13, 2020, in the parking lot of a forest preserve just west of Pontiac, Michigan. Forensic examination determined that Zhao had been brutally sexually abused, bound, and had been doused with gasoline before being set on fire while still alive. Extensive evidence linked the 33-year-old Zhao to Morris, who was arrested later that month by Oakland County officers.
Morris plans appeal of verdict
Morris spoke only briefly to the court during Thursday’s proceeding. “This time, I’m not gonna say anything,” he stated. “There’s a lot I’d like to say. This time I’m not gonna say anything. I’ll wait till I come back for an appeal and begin again.” Morris did not testify on his own behalf during October’s trial, and the extensive evidence gathered against him led the jury to reach a guilty verdict of both murder counts in less than one hour.
In the trial, jurors were presented with evidence showing Zhao’s murder as being the result of Morris acting out a violent sexual fantasy involving Asian women, bondage, torture, and a forest setting. Investigators from state and federal agencies recovered thousands of images, search results and web pages visited by Morris and saved on his phone. The investigators also linked Morris to Zhao in the days and hours preceeding her killing from tracking data associated with both Morris’s and Zhao’s phones.
Featured image source: Oakland County Sheriff’s Office