Poker player and commentator, Susie Zhao was murdered in July of 2020. Within a few weeks, on the day of her funeral, Jeffery Bernard Morris was arrested and charged with her murder. Despite several court appearances, multiple delays have meant he has still not stood trial for these charges.
Now a new court date could be set for as late as June 16, 2022, coming up on two years after Zhao’s body was found.
The case opened on July 13, 2020, when a body was found in a park in Michigan. The body was identified as Susie Zhao who had moved back to Michigan to live with her parents after COVID dried up the live poker scene in California.
Evidence collected on-site suggested Zhao had been sexually assaulted with a blunt object, bound, and set alight. The last of these was listed as her cause of death in court later. Her body was 90% covered in burns.
Morris was arrested on the basis of cell tower tracking and security footage which suggested he was with Zhao much of the night of her death. A shop assistant claims to have seen him shoplift zip ties and accelerant on the way to the park where Zhao’s body was found. When the police arrested him, he had a baseball bat covered in possible bloodstains in his car.
In court, the prosecutor revealed that Morris’s DNA was found in cervical samples taken from Zhao’s body. Morris a long rap sheet that included charges for rape and assault.
A litany of delays
Morris was initially to stand trial on March 22, 2021. COVID and Morris’s health were partly responsible for the delay between arrest and this trial date.
However, the prosecutors felt that the evidence of sexual assault was sufficient to add a felony murder charge to the original charge of murder.
Adding the felony murder charge pushed the trial back further. Pretrial hearings were held in April, but the court set September 7, 2021, as the date for jury selection.
In September, the court date was once again pushed back at the request of the defense. The delay was granted to give Morris’s court-appointed lawyer time to locate further evidence. The date decided on was January 3, 2022.
However, in January, as a result of COVID-related backlogs, Judge Jeffery Matis delayed all jury trials scheduled up until February 25, 2022. That includes the Zhao murder trial.
So once again, the poker community has to wait to see justice done and closure found.
The court will resume jury trials after February 28, 2022. No date has been set for Morris’s trial yet. However, the court anticipates all trials will be rescheduled for dates before July 16.