Man accused in poker player's brutal death had lengthy criminal history

Posted at 5:39 PM, Aug 04, 2020

(WXYZ) — Slumped down in a hospital bed, dressed in jailhouse orange – a familiar wardrobe for the defendant – a 60-year-old from Pontiac virtually addressed an Oakland County judge Tuesday.

"This is a very serious matter before the court," the judge said. "The crime of homicide. Premeditated homicide."

Which leads us to ask what kind of person could commit the vicious, violent and vile acts that were done against 33-year-old Susie Zhao – an innocent, bright young woman in the prime of her life.

But it all tragically came to an end in the middle of July. While the Troy native was back in metro Detroit to spend time with family and friends.

"She was a free spirit in the truest sense," one of Zhao's close friends said. "She followed her dreams (and was) absolutely brilliant."

Zhao was a rising star on the professional poker playing circuit, and with other endeavors as well. She was fondly referred to as "Susie Q."

Police and prosecutors say 60-year-old Jeffery Bernard Morris is believed to be responsible for the crime.

Sources tell 7 Action News the crime scene was grisly and gruesome, and indicated that Zhao was bound and then taken to the Pontiac Lake recreation area where her body was set on fire. White Lake police say she was found on July 13.

Morris, the accused in this case, has crossed paths with the long arm of the law before. Morris is a convicted sex offender.

Some of the other crimes on his rap sheet include:

In 1989 he was charged with third-degree criminal sexual conduct.

Morris pleaded guilty to misdemeanor domestic violence in 2009.

And in 2010, he failed to register as a sex offender.

Morris is currently on probation in the 44th District Court for retail fraud. White Lake Township police detectives worried about Morris' previous behavior and the public's safety. They asked that he remain in custody of the Oakland County Sheriff's Department.

Morris really has no ties to metro Detroit, but a flurry of connections in Florida, which detectives say makes him a flight risk.

The court denied Morris' bond.