A medical examiner testified Monday that a Michigan man accused of killing a professional poker player in July burned the woman alive.
During the preliminary hearing, Oakland County deputy medical examiner Dr. Andrew Hanosh testified that Susie Zhao’s hair was burned off, her tongue was charred, and soot was found in her airway — suggesting she was alive when Jeffrey Morris, 60, allegedly lit her ablaze. Hanosh estimated that 90 percent of Zhao’s body was burned, according to WJBK.
Morris was charged with first-degree premeditated murder in connection with Zhao’s death. State records indicated that Morris is a Tier 3 sex offender with a 1989 conviction for third-degree criminal sexual conduct — force or coercion.
Hanosh also said Zhao had injuries to her genitals — corroborating prior reports that she was sexually assaulted with a large object.
On July 13, two men passing a parking area near the Pontiac Lake State Recreation Area found Zhao’s charred body. One of the men said they initially mistook the body for a Halloween mannequin, WJBK reported.
Investigators believe Zhao was killed at the park sometime after 11:45 p.m. on July 12. The news station reported that Morris and Zhao stayed in the same room at the Sherwood Motel in Waterford but not at the same time.
Cell phone records suggest the pair were at the motel same evening. Morris allegedly told police that at some point he and Zhao left the motel to purchase alcohol. He reportedly also said Zhao left the motel around midnight and took all her belongings, including her cell phone. Cell phone records, however, place the phone at the motel until 5 a.m. on July 13. Records also indicate that Morris left around the same time and drove to a secluded spot in the Pontiac Lake Recreation Area. Authorities alleged he was at the location for approximately seven minutes.
Zhao was known in the professional poker circuit as Susie Q. She reportedly lived in Los Angeles and moved in with her parents in Michigan on June 9.
Friends said Zhao bounced between cities, including Los Angeles and Las Vegas and had recently moved back to Michigan to be closer to family and deal with some issues in her personal life.
The judge ultimately ruled that prosecutors have enough evidence to proceed with their case against Morris, who remains jailed without bond. A motive in this case remains unclear.
For the latest true crime and justice news, subscribe to the ‘Crime Stories with Nancy Grace’ podcast. Listen to a related episode:
[Featured image: Susie Zhao/Facebook]