Sex Offender Raped and Murdered Beloved Professional Poker Player, Burned Her Alive

A dangerous sex offender was convicted Friday for the horrific rape and murder of a former professional poker player who authorities say was restrained and burned alive, FOX 2 reports.

Jurors found Jeffrey Morris guilty of first-degree murder and felony murder in connection with the death of 33-year-old Susie “Susie Q” Zhao, whose remains were found on July 13, 2020, near a parking lot at Pontiac Lake State Recreation Area in White Lake Township, Michigan.

The latter charge covers murder while another felony was committed, here second-degree criminal sexual conduct.

Prosecutors alleged that the 62-year-old Morris was acting out a twisted sexual fantasy in attacking Zhao. Morris had reportedly searched the internet for images of sexual violence and thousands of images were recovered on his phone depicting brutal abuse of Asian women, slavery, and bondage.

Authorities also recovered material depicting sex in wooded areas like where Zhao’s body was discovered.

Morris inflicted unspeakable trauma and torture against Zhao. Investigators believe her wrists were bound by zip ties before Morris poured gasoline on her body and set her on fire while she was still alive. Zhao reportedly had also sustained significant injuries to her genital area.

Zhao’s hair had burned off, her tongue was burned and soot was discovered inside her airways, which indicated that she was likely alive when Morris set her on fire, according to FOX 2.

Police believe Morris encountered Zhao while she was staying at a motel. Authorities tied Morris to the crime based on his cell phone data, which showed his phone was consistently near Zhao’s phone in the hours before she died. DNA evidence also connected Morris to Zhao’s body and a witness testified that they sold Morris gasoline around the time of the slaying.

Lead prosecutor John Skrzynski told jurors that Morris views sex as violence and death, that sex to him “is inflicting pain, it’s cruel,” the Oakland Press reports.

“He’s a killer and a liar, a liar and a murderer, a liar and a pervert,” Skrzynski told jurors, according to the Oakland Press.

Morris had previously been convicted of rape in 1989 in addition to numerous other crimes.

A defense lawyer for Morris claimed DNA from another man was found during Zhao’s autopsy and that tire tracks where her body was found were not investigated. The defense lawyer also questioned the state’s timeline of events.

Jurors deliberated for less than an hour before returning the conviction. Morris faces life in prison when he is scheduled to be sentenced on November 10.

Zhao was widely regarded as a success on the professional poker circuit. She began playing poker as a youth and did online gaming while studying business and psychology at Northwestern University. It would eventually turn into a lucrative career, according to the Detroit News.

Shortly before she died, Zhao returned home to be with her parents part-time in Oakland County, which is where she grew up after her family immigrated to the United States from China when she was a child.

Zhao had been diagnosed with schizophrenia, but her friends told the Detroit News that she “had a beautiful aura” and a magnetic personality.

“She did not deserve this,” longtime Meredith Rogowski told the Detroit News. “This is a horrible tragedy and I hope this doesn’t define the life she lived.”

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[Featured image: Susie Zhao/Facebook]