The 60-year-old Michigan man charged in the death of professional poker player Susie Zhao is a homeless sex offender who met her at a motel the night before her charred body was found, police said Wednesday.
Jeffery Bernard Morris, of Pontiac, was charged Tuesday with first-degree premeditated murder from his hospital bed in the death of Zhao, a 33-year-old rising poker star whose badly burned body was found on July 13 near the Pontiac Lake Recreation Area, the Detroit News reports.
No evidence has been found indicating that poker or gambling was in any way connected to Zhao’s death, White Lake Township Police Lt. Christopher Hild told reporters at a news conference Wednesday.
“This is not the end of the investigation into Susie’s death, but the beginning of the pursuit of justice for her and her family,” Hild said, adding that investigators are continuing to seek a motive in the slaying.
Morris, a convicted sex offender, is suspected of having met Zhao on July 12 at a Waterford Township motel where she frequently stayed, police said, citing cellphone records reviewed by local and federal investigators.
In 1989, Morris was convicted of third-degree criminal sexual conduct in Oakland County Circuit Court, according to the Michigan Sex Offender Registry.
He was arrested in the death of Zhao early Friday after being pulled over on a warrant while driving west of Detroit in White Lake Township, police previously told the Detroit Free Press.
Hild said Wednesday that Morris was taken into custody based on unspecified evidence found by investigators. The transient man’s last known address was in Pontiac, police said.
Zhao had stayed at the same motel several times in the month leading up to her death, but it’s unclear how or if she had any connection to or relationship with Morris, Hild said.
Morris, who remains held without bond, was still hospitalized Wednesday, Hild said.
Hild declined to elaborate on Morris’ condition, but told reporters he’s expected to be discharged soon and taken to the Oakland County Jail, the Detroit News reports.
A judge has set a probable cause hearing in the case for Aug. 18.
Zhao, who was last seen alive by her mother on July 12, had been living in Los Angeles, but moved to Michigan in June to stay with her parents as she confronted “challenges in her personal life,” friends have said.
Zhao, known as “Susie Q” at the card table, had raked in nearly a quarter-million in poker winnings since 2009, according to an online poker database.
In her last WSOP event in 2017, Zhao took home $18,693 after finishing in 697th place. Since 2009, Zhao won $187,441 at WSOP events, including $73,805 at the 43rd annual World Series of Poker main event in Las Vegas, where she finished in 90th place, her WSOP player profile shows.