White Lake residents Ronald Groeneveld and Daniel Knoblock were driving along the road through the Pontiac Lake Recreation Area on their way to work on July 13, 2020 when they spotted something unusual in a small parking lot in gravel to their left.
At first they didn’t know what it was, thinking it might be a burnt dummy. So they stopped to take a closer look – and made a gruesome discovery. It was a human body lying on its back, partly bloody, with its legs apart.
Knoblock immediately called 911 and police were on the scene within about 10 minutes.
A day later, after an autopsy, investigators used fingerprints to identify the victim as 33-year-old Susie “Susie Q” Zhao.
A former professional poker player, Zhao had recently moved from California to Oakland County where she grew up after immigrating from China when she was around 9 years old. Diagnosed with schizophrenia, she lived part-time with her mother and stepfather in their Waterford Township home, police said, and also frequented a Waterford Township motel.
Groeneveld and Knoblock were among more than a dozen witnesses called to appear in Oakland County Circuit Court this week for the trial against Jeffery Morris, 62, a homeless felon charged with setting Zhao on fire after a brutal sexual assault, leaving her to die at the state recreation area in White Lake Township where her charred remains were discovered.
2,000 internet searches for violent sex, assault
In building their case, Oakland County Chief Trial Attorney John Skrzynski and Assistant District Attorney Brandon Barlog presented the jury with evidence they said linked Morris to the murder: Area where the body was found. been found; other cellphone evidence from Morris’s phone and Zhao’s two phones indicating contact between them, and, days before the murder, more than 2,000 internet searches of Morris’s phone for violent sexual activity and abuse. assaults – similar to what was inflicted on Zhao. Other supporting evidence presented included DNA finds and surveillance video showing a car thought to be Morris’s traveling near where the body was discovered.
Jurors were also shown security footage of a Meijer store in Waterford just before closing time on July 12, where Morris may have stolen zip ties and petroleum jelly which were allegedly used in the sexual assault .
Additional testimony came from Basam Alkasmikha, owner of a Shell station on Dixie Highway, who testified that he sold Morris a can of gasoline and gasoline on July 11, 2020, and then additional gasoline to him on July 11, 2020. next day, telling the court that Morris had been seen at the pumps for some time with his trunk open, although he could not determine what Morris was doing. Prosecutors argue that Morris used this gas canister during the murder; a molten substance later determined to be of the same material was found at the scene, under Zhao’s arm, as evidenced by forensic lab investigator Valerie Mayra.
On Tuesday, jurors viewed several graphic photos presented by the prosecution, including those showing Zhao’s indicted remains from the scene as well as those taken during his autopsy conducted by medical examiner Andrew Hanosh, MD. Hanosh testified that Zhao was set on fire while she was still alive and breathing, according to autopsy results showing soot found deep in her lungs, and that she endured excruciating pain in the moments before his death.
“She would have been alive for a few seconds or as long as a minute or two, or so … (suffering an) ‘extremely painful’ death,” Hanosh said. Thermal burns to more than 90% of her body surface and inhalation of smoke and soot are what killed her, he said.
Zhao also suffered a deep laceration and bruising to his genital area from “blunt force”, Hanosh said, which tore tissue and muscle. And her wrists had been zip-tied; one was intact when his body was found and part of the other was on the other wrist, Hanosh said. A partially burned piece of tie was also found near his foot.
Among the other witnesses called to the stand was Michelle Lagrou, who had known Zhao since they were teenagers. While they were no longer close friends and hadn’t had contact in years, Lagrou said Zhao called her a few days before her death, wanting to reunite. She took her on a planned trip with her young daughter to visit friends in Saginaw, spending the night there. During the visit, Lagrou said he noticed some peculiarities about Zhao. In addition to behaving oddly, Lagrou testified, Zhao took her car without permission and drove away for a few hours, and was suspected of stealing five of her Adderall pills. On her way home on July 12 – which would be the last day of her life – Zhao exhibited more bizarre behavior, confusing Lagrou to the point that she left her at a gas station in Grand Blanc.
“She made me feel uncomfortable… she scared me, rubbed me the wrong way,” Lagrou said, adding that it was especially upsetting because her child was in the car with them. .
Lagrou further testified that she only learned of Zhao’s mental illness diagnosis after his death, when the police told her.
It turned out that Zhao’s mother went to the petrol station and drove her home to Waterford that day, according to a statement from her mother which was read into evidence by Barlog. In her statement, she said that Zhao had been diagnosed with schizophrenia years ago and that she and her husband had tried to have her hospitalized against her will by court order and later applied for legal guardianship. , but without success.
The mother and her husband left Zhao at home that evening and went out for dinner, returning around 10:15 p.m. Zhao was no longer there, according to the statement.
Investigators believe Morris picked her up and took her to the Sherwood Motel in Waterford and, as seen in a July 31 police video interview, Morris admitted to being with Zhao at the motel on the evening of July 12 . But he said he dozed off. after sexual activity and had “no idea” what happened to Zhao afterward. “I woke up, she was gone,” Morris said.
As noted by Morris’ court-appointed attorney, Michael McCarthy, investigators found no eyewitnesses to Zhao’s murder.
Morris’ past run-ins with the law include a 1989 rape conviction in Pontiac.
The testimony phase of the trial ended on Wednesday. Closing arguments are scheduled for Friday morning before Judge Martha Anderson, followed by jury deliberations.
Gun discharge at Oxford Middle School ruled accidental
Woman accused of robbing elderly veteran pleads
Waterford man arrested on suspicion of series of robberies
#Testimony #Susie #Zhaos #killer #searched #internet #times #violent #sex