A Michigan jury found Jeffery Bernard Morris guilty of killing former professional poker player Susie Zhao in July 2020 in less than an hour on Friday, October 7.
In Oakland County Circuit Court, Morris, 62, was found guilty of first-degree premeditated murder and felony murder in Zhao’s death. Zhao was a regular in the Los Angeles poker scene, and her charred and dismembered corpse was located in a state recreation area.
Morris’s case, which has riveted the poker world, finally went to trial this week after years of delays brought on by the COVID-19 outbreak and other issues.
Lead prosecutor John Skrzynski developed the evidence against Morris during the course of the week. According to Oakland County prosecutors, Zhao met Morris in July 2020 after relocating to Michigan to reside with relatives during the epidemic.
Skrzynski told jurors that Morris had met Zhao at the Sherwood Motel and persuaded her to be zip-tied before driving her to an isolated dirt road. Drawing on more than a dozen witnesses, including an FBI special agent assigned to the case, a childhood friend of Zhao’s who was one of the last to see her alive, and a detective who testified that Morris had searched for violent sexual assault on his phone nearly 2,000 times in the month prior to the murder.
Prosecutors claim that Morris laid the victim down in a “very isolated spot” and then “took his fist and he beat her” in the genital region before “sprinkling the gas can over her and… light(ing) her on fire while she’s still alive.”
On the first day of the trial, Skrzynski allegedly said to the jury, “(Morris) utilized Zhao to make his violent dreams come true.”
Michael McCarthy, the defense counsel, attempted to undermine the prosecution’s case in the days that followed by challenging the manner in which investigators originally questioned Morris and disputing the DNA evidence connecting Morris to Zhao.
However, it was insufficient to persuade the jury, which swiftly returned to Judge Martha Anderson on Friday afternoon with two unanimous guilty verdicts after several hours of closing arguments earlier in the day. To learn more or you want to be updated you can go to OKBET Sportsbook or simply go directly to OKBET.com.
What We Discovered Throughout the Trial
While many of the case’s gory particulars were discovered throughout the investigative phases, this week’s trial provided fresh information about the very unsettling incident.
The prosecution presented the jury with numerous graphic pictures of Zhao’s burned and dismembered body, including pictures of a “significant deep wound” in Zhao’s genital region and pictures of soot in her windpipe, which showed “Ms. Zhao was alive and breathing in the contaminants of combustion” at the time she was set ablaze.
The 33-year-protracted old’s battle with mental illness, which included being diagnosed with schizophrenia, was also made public during the trial. According to Skrzynski, who claimed that Zhao’s mental condition made her a “vulnerable” victim, Zhao’s mother, Fang Dai, sought to have her daughter involuntarily committed in 2015 and then attempted to get guardianship.
Michelle Lagrou, Zhao’s childhood friend, testified on the second day of the trial that she had been with Zhao in the days leading up to the murder and had noticed that Zhao had been “acting slightly unusual” and “seemed more blankish.” She said that her friend’s odd conduct made “perfect sense” after learning from the police that Zhao had been diagnosed with schizophrenia.
The trial also exposed Morris’ intense fixation with gruesome “punch-fist” porn.
In the month before to the murder, a search warrant for the contents of Morris’ iPhone revealed approximately 2,000 online searches for pornographic and violent sexual assault, including for terms like “Asian” and “kidnap,” which was essential in developing the prosecution’s motivation.
Morris, who wore a grey suit and had grown an unruly beard since his arrest in 2020, stood quietly next to his counsel throughout the week and remained calm as the jury read its judgments.
Morris will be sentenced on November 10, according to Judge Anderson. For both charges, the 62-year-old faces a life sentence without the possibility of parole.
The Poker Community Has Found Peace
After several setbacks and delays in the horrible case, individuals in the poker world who had patiently waited for justice for over two and a half years likely found some solace in the guilty judgment.
Zhao made a big impact on many people in the poker world with her bright nature and upbeat attitude. Zhao was a frequent player and commentator on the Live at the Bike live at LA’s Bicycle Casino and had many deep runs in the World Series of Poker (WSOP) Main Event.
Bart Hanson, David Tuchman, Allen Kessler, Brandon Shack-Harris, Xuan Liu, and Ronnie Bardah are some of the poker players that knew Zhao and considered him a friend. Ronnie Bardah described Zhao as “very brilliant and a darling” and “kind on and off the table.”
She was one of the lively and bubbliest opponents I’ve ever faced, according to Clayton Fletcher, who participated in the 2015 Main Event alongside Zhao. She was a really skilled player who enjoyed having a good time at the table.
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