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Federal Murder Charge Added Against Man Accused of Setting Poker Pro on Fire

Written by:
Nagesh Rath
Published on:
Feb/15/2021

Poker pro Susie Zhao was bound, sexually assaulted, and burned alive following an encounter at a Michigan motel, according to court documents.

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Jeffery Bernard Morris, the accused murderer, has had his case remanded to its originating court.

Zhao, 33, was last seen around 5:30 p.m. on July 12 by her mother, the White Lake Township, approximately an hour northeast of Detroit.   Her badly burned body was later found at a Pontiac Lake Recreation Area.

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Morris, 60, was charged from his hospital bed with first-degree premeditated murder back in August following a review of surveillance video and phone records. Authorities discovered the convicted sex offender allegedly met Zhao in a motel room the night before her body was found. Morris, who is homeless and has a “lengthy criminal history” is currently in jail after being denied bail. 

PokerTube.com reports that Circuit Court Judge Martha Anderson ordered the case returned to the 52-2 District Court where charges were first filed so the additional charge or charges can be appended to the case.  A felony murder charge can be added when the murder occurs during the commission of another felony; in this case, investigators had ready evidence of both kidnapping and sexual assault, and a charge or charges of that nature may also be considered.

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Morris was denied bond at his initial court appearance and remains held in an Oakland County jail. The remanding of his case means that his initial trial date has been cancelled. No new date for his trial on the expanded charges will be set until those charges are finalized by prosecutors.

Star Michigan trial attorney Jamie White of White Law PPLC reviewed the murder case and questioned whether Morris might be the only individual tied to the murder.

One of the two men who found Zhao's body did not initially believe they were human remains.

"It was hard to tell if it was Halloween prank or mannequin that was burned," Ronald Granville testified in court.

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Deputy medical examiner Dr. Andrew Hanosh that revealed she had her hair burned off, her tongue had been burned, and soot was found in her airway, leading to the horrifying conclusion she was alive while being burned.

"It was extensively burned. I would estimate at least 90% of the body's surface area," Dr. Hanosh said.

There was also extensive damage to the victim's genitals.

Zhao had cashed out $ 18,693 in the 2017 World Series of Poker Main Event.

- Nagesh Rath, Gambling911.com

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