A Michigan court has heard how Jeffrey Bernard Morris is alleged to have violently sexually assaulted poker pro Susie Zhao in a forest parking lot, then set her body on fire while still alive, leaving behind traces of his DNA and other evidence.
Susie Zhao’s body was found by passing workmen on the morning of July 13th 2020, her charred remains left in a forest parking lot.
This week the trial of the man accused of her brutal and sadistic murder, 63-year-old Jeffrey Bernard Morris, finally got underway in Oakland County Circuit Court, with Judge Martha Anderson presiding.
Morris, pictured seated next to his defense attorney, Michael McCarthy, below, is accused of the premeditated murder and felony murder of Susie and is facing a life sentence without parole on each count.
The defence does not plan to call any witnesses of its own and Morris is not expected to testify, which means the jury will determine Morris’ guilt or innocence on the strength of the prosecution case alone.
The State of Michigan’s chief litigator, John Skrzynski, began that case yesterday, with two days of testimony from 17 separate witnesses.
Forensic evidence overwhelming
The court heard evidence from witnesses including forensic experts, police, and a childhood friend of Susie, as well as the gas station owner who sold Morris the gasoline used to set Susie on fire.
Dr. Andrew Hanosh, a forensic pathologist, testified that Susie suffered burns across 95% of her body, and was probably alive for “a minute or two” after being set alight.
He also found that Susie had extensive injuries in the genital area consistent with violent, blunt-force trauma. The prosecution claim that Morris had an interest in extreme sexual behaviour, including “fisting” and “punch-fisting”, and that Susie’s injuries were caused by such an act.
Forensic scientist, Jessica Drager, later testified that DNA samples taken from Suzie Zhao’s vagina closely matched that of Jeffrey Bernard Morris.
Susie Zhao Suffered from Schizophrenia
A toxicology report revealed that Susie was found to have psychiatric meds to treat schizophrenia in her system when she died.
A statement from her mother, Fang Dai, was read to the court, which revealed that she and her husband had attempted to get guardianship of Susie in 2018, and have her institutionalised in 2015, neither attempt successful.
One of Susie’s long-time friends also gave evidence, Michelle Lagrou revealing that she didn’t know that Susie had been diagnosed as schizophrenic until later, but was worried about Susie’s behaviour the day before she died.
“I thought she was acting somewhat strange, but I had heard from some friends of mine that she was a little different,” Lagrou told the court.
Ms Lagrou was so concerned by Susie’s action that she left her at a gas station and drove off. Susie was picked up by her mother and taken home but later left the house again.
CCTV, Mobile Phone and Shoplifting Evidence
The court heard how Morris had borrowed $60 from a friend, Matthew Pohl, on the evening of July 12th, to pay for a hotel room. Morris and Susie were together in the Sherwood Motel the evening before her murder.
The owners of the hotel, Mr and Mrs Patel gave evidence on day three, with the jury hearing that had Mr Patel been working, Morris would not have been allowed to rent a room because of twice previously leaving the place in a mess.
Morris is alleged to have bound Susie and driven her from the Sherwood Motel to the Pontiac Lake Recreation Park parking lot, where he killed her.
The jury were shown harrowing photographs of Susie’s charred body, which chief litigator, John Skrzynski, claims was a result of Morris setting her alight after attacking her.
To this end, he called witnesses to give evidence that Morris bought a gas canister and fuel on the night of Susie’s death, the can matching one found burned out next to her body.
In addition, a loss prevention specialist, Keith Hawkes, testified that Morris was seen on CCTV stealing zip ties and Vaseline shortly before Susie’s murder, those items matching evidence found at the crime scene.
Mobile phone evidence was also presented that the prosecution says ties Morris to the hotel and the murder scene, as well as to Susie Zhao.
Jeffrey Bernard Morris Viewed Violent Pornography
The court also heard from an FBI expert that Jeffrey Bernard Morris visited almost 2000 websites that displayed graphic sexual and sexually-violent content in the weeks before and after Susie Zhao’s murder.
The prosecution rested its case yesterday and with the defence not calling any witnesses, the court will hear closing arguments on Friday.
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