A 62-year-old Michigan man convicted of the appalling rape and murder of poker player Susie “Susie Q” Zhao was sent to prison for life on Thursday.
Sentencing Judge Martha Anderson of Oakland County Circuit Court told Morris he had “taken advantage of an individual who was fragile, and basically destroyed everything she had accomplished in her life.”
She described it as one of the “most agonizing” trials she had ever presided over.
When asked if he had anything say, Morris, a transient convicted sex offender answered, “There’s a lot I’d like to say. This time I’m not gonna say anything — I’ll wait till I come back for an appeal and begin again,” as reported by The Oakland Press.
‘Liar, Murderer, Pervert’
Zhao’s badly charred body was found in secluded parkland northwest of the city of Pontiac, Mich. in July 2020. She had been zip-tied, sexually assaulted, doused in gasoline, and set on fire. She was 33 when she died.
The medical examiner said soot in her airways indicated she had been burned alive. She also had extensive damage to her genital area caused by blunt force, the examiner testified.
Last month, the jury took less than an hour to convict Morris of first-degree premeditated murder and felony murder. The latter relates to a murder during the commission of another felony, in this case, criminal sexual conduct.
Prosecutors accused Morris of acting out a sick sexual fantasy on his victim. Morris made thousands of internet searches related to sadistic sex involving kidnap and violence, specifically against Asian women, court records show. He also looked up pornography that involved encounters in secluded wooded areas.
Lead litigator John Skrzynski described Morris in his closing argument as “a killer and a liar, a liar and a murderer, a liar and a pervert.” Morris was someone for whom sex “is violence, is death, is inflicting pain, it’s cruel,” the Press reported.
Cellphone records linked Morris to the crime, showing his phone and Zhao’s were together in the hours leading up to the murder.
China-born Zhao grew up in Michigan and had returned there during the pandemic after a decade on the California poker scene. Primarily a cash game player, she nevertheless enjoyed several deep runs in the World Series of Poker and had net career tournament earnings of $224,671, according to the Hendon Mob Database.
It was revealed at the trial that she had developed schizophrenia, a detail she had hidden from her friends in Michigan.
One, Emily Rogowski, told the Press she didn’t want Morris’ crime to define Zhao and who she was. It was a “dark scar on an otherwise spectacular existence,” she said.
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