Jeffrey Bernard Morris Jailed for Life Without Parole for Murder of Poker Pro Susie Zhao3 weeks ago
Michigan's Oakland County Circuit Court reconvened just over a month after a jury took less than one hour to find Morris guilty of the July 2020 killing of Susie.
The week-long trial had heard the most gruesome details of Susie’s final moments as convicted sex offender Morris bound, sexually assaulted, and set her alight.
This week 62-year-old Morris was again in front of Judge Martha Anderson, the sentence not unexpected as she condemned him to life in prison without possibility of parole for the twin counts of premeditated murder and felony murder.
Brutal and Needless MurderJudge Anderson told her court:
“Having sat through that trial, it was one of the most agonizing things for myself. And trust me, I’ve had murder trials, many, many of them. But I can’t get over the brutality of this murder, and the needlessness of it all.”
The trial court had heard last month how Susie had been battling schizophrenia, her mother and stepfather trying to help her through the pandemic lockdown.
Tragically for Susie, returning to Michigan from California proved fatal, unwittingly becoming embroiled with Morris, whose depravity was centred around violent sexual fantasies.
Judge Anderson, in sentencing Morris, stated:
“You took advantage of an individual who was fragile and basically destroyed everything that she had accomplished in her life. And I don’t believe there’s any sentence that this court could impose that will ever make others that are close to Zhao feel good about the situation.”
Punishment and Appeal
Lead prosecutor in the case against Morris, John Skrzynski, told the sentencing court:
“The worst punishment that he can have is the one that he’s going to receive. Because for the rest of his life he’s going to have to live with people who are exactly like him.”
Morris, before receiving his life sentence without parole, said only:
“There’s a lot I would like to say, but at this time I’m not going to say anything. I’ll wait until we come back on appeal and we do it again.”
What Morris’ grounds for appeal will be in what was almost a slam-dunk, open-and-shut case are yet to be established.
Susie’s mother, Dai Fang, was unable to attend the sentencing as she was in China looking after her elderly parents. However, Susie’s friend, Meredith Rogowski, read out a moving tribute, explaining that the details of her death were “just a small, gruesome glimpse of an otherwise beautiful life.”
Relating childhood tales of “candy-store” innocence mixed with “conspicuously adult” understanding, Rogowski stated:
“It’s important for me to honor my friend as the legend she really was. Susie was bold and unconfined by the rules of the world but also kind and gentle. She could win all of your money and make you smile at the same time. Most importantly, she was a loyal friend. Not a day goes by that my heart doesn’t ache for Susie and her mother. Her friends will keep her memory alive and carry her spirit with us always. Today marks an important milestone in our healing journey as justice is finally received for our friend.”
Susie “Susie Q” Zhao RememberedBorn in Beijing, China, Susie moved to the US as a child, attending middle school in Troy, Michigan and then Cranbrook-Kingswood school in West Bloomfield, Michigan. She would later graduate with a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Northwestern University in Chicago, Illinois in 2010.
In her obituary, her mother, Fang Dai, recalls her “inborn talents of super memory, mathematics potential and uncommon sensitivity” as leading her to poker, Susie eventually moving to California and playing poker professionally in Los Angeles and Las Vegas.
Although not a household name, Susie sported various poker sponsorships over the years and picked up more than $220,000 in live tournament cashes, including a 90th spot, $73k cash at the 2015 WSOP.
Susie was also a regular in cash games around LA and appeared several times on the YouTube show “Live at the Bike”, streamed from the Bicycle Casino.
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