Homeless Sex Offender Charged With Murder of Poker Pro Susie Zhao

  • Michigan man Jeffery Bernard Morris, 60, is under arrest for first-degree premeditated murder
  • Morris likely met Zhao at a motel the night before the discovery of her charred corpse 
  • White Lake police declined to reveal any evidence found in Zhao's motel room
  • Detective Hild said there is no apparent link between Zhao's homicide and her poker career
numbered evidence items on ground in crime scene investigation
A homeless, convicted Michigan sex offender faces a first-degree murder charge over the death of professional poker player Susie Zhao. [Image: Shutterstock.com]

First-degree premeditated murder

Homeless Michigan man Jeffery Bernard Morris, 60, was charged Tuesday from his hospital bed with the first-degree premeditated murder of poker professional Susie Zhao.

Court TV footage shows the suspected killer wearing his orange prison jumpsuit and a neck brace as he received his charge from an Oakland County judge:

On the basis of mobile phone records analyzed by local and federal investigators, Morris is suspected of meeting up with Zhao at Sherwood Motel in Waterford Township on July 12, the night before the discovery of her badly burned body.

suspected of meeting up with Zhao at Sherwood Motel

While he is expected to be released shortly and taken to Oakland County Jail, Morris was hospitalized Tuesday. The reason was not disclosed.

Investigation ongoing

At a Wednesday press conference, White Lake Township police lieutenant Christopher Hild said investigators are continuing to look for a motive for the homicide. Morris was jailed following an interview with detectives, but so far he has refused to talk to investigators.

Zhao’s murder suspect was denied bond and is due back in court on August 18 for a probable cause hearing, which includes discussions regarding a possible plea agreement.

If found guilty of first-degree murder, under Michigan law Morris won’t face the death penalty. He will be imprisoned for life without possibility of parole.

Morris a known sex predator

Zhao’s charred body was found in a parking area on July 13 near Maceday Lake and Cross roads within the Pontiac Lake State Recreation Park. After what Hild termed “an exhausting 24 days of investigation”, in which White Lake police was assisted by the FBI, Oakland County Sheriff’s Office, and Waterford Police Department, Morris’s arrest took place on July 31.

an establishment Zhao was known to frequent

According to Hild, the two had allegedly been together at the Sherwood Motel on the Dixie Highway, an establishment Zhao was known to frequent. Hild said Zhao’s relationship, if any, with Morris is still being investigated. He also declined to comment on any evidence gathered from Zhao’s motel room.

“This is not the end of the investigation into Susie’s death,” Hild told reporters Wednesday.

Police described Morris, a homeless transient, as having a “lengthy criminal history”. He appears on the Michigan public sex offender registry. In 1989, Morris was convicted for rape in Pontiac, a city listed as his known address.

No evidence to link crime to poker play

Despite Zhao’s high-profile career, Hild told reporters there is no evidence linking the murder to her poker playing. He spoke about her recent move from Los Angeles to her parents’ home in Waterford Township around June or before.

“We’re piecing together when she came back from California to Michigan,” Hild added. According to friends’ accounts, Zhao relocated to deal with challenges in her personal life.

In a difficult week for families of poker players, police in Reno are investigating the 24-day disappearance of former high-stakes pro Brad Booth.