On Demand

Beyond Criminal Headlines: Dr. Joni Johnston on the murder of Susie Zhao

Just this past November, a convicted sex offender was sentenced to life in prison for brutally raping and killing professional poker player Susie Zhao by burning her alive.

Jeffery Morris was handed a mandatory life sentence without the possibly of parole on Nov. 10, The Oakland Press reports, a little more than a month after he was convicted at trial of first-degree murder and felony murder in the commission of second-degree criminal sexual conduct. Jurors deliberated for less than an hour before finding Morris guilty, The New York Post’s Snejana Farberov writes.

This week, Cox Media Group’s Nicole Bennett had the opportunity to speak with Dr. Joni Johnston, a practicing forensic psychologist, about her extensive research on Susie’s Zhao’s case. Also a private investigator and crime writer, Dr. Johnston currently evaluates offenders with mental disorders who are up for parole and provides expert testimony in criminal and civil litigation.

>> Listen to the full episode below.

Beyond Criminal Headlines is a podcast in which Cox Media Group’s Nicole Bennett sits down with esteemed journalists and true crime experts who’ve covered some of the most notorious cases in American history. Find the latest ‘Beyond Criminal Headlines’ content on any podcast provider or listen on demand here.

According to multiple reports, Susie Zhao was a rising star in the world of professional poker at the time of her tragic death. Zhao had been living in Los Angeles but moved to Michigan to live with her mother and stepfather in June 2020. “She was diagnosed with schizophrenia as an adult,” The Post’s Farberov writes.

Last seen alive by her mother on July 12, 2020, Zhao’s charred remains were discovered the following day in a wooded area at the Pontiac Lake Recreation Area in Oakland County.

“Prosecutors said Morris, a homeless man who was convicted of a sex crime in 1989, met Zhao at a Waterford Township motel where she often stayed and proceeded to carry out what has been described as a sexual fantasy involving bondage,” Farberov reports.

According to evidence, Farberov adds, the victim was “savagely raped, causing damage to her genitals.

“She was restrained with zip ties, doused with gasoline and set alight while she was still alive.”

During Jeffrey Morris’ trial, prosecutor John Skrzynski reportedly said, “What happened to her was just so unkind, so brutal and needless.”

According to The Post, Morris was arrested in Aug. 2020 after police “tied him to the location where Zhao’s body was found through phone records.”

Nicole Bennett

Nicole Bennett

CMG Digital Content Producer





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