A 31-year-old Virginia Beach man who was convicted of murdering his ex-girlfriend by poisoning her with cyanide has, in a prosecutor’s estimation, foamed at the mouth “out of nowhere” Wednesday in court.
Joseph Merlino III was found guilty in June of first-degree murder in the death of 35-year-old Ellie Tran. Fast forward to December 5, and it was expected that Merlino would be sentenced to life in prison, which the jury recommended.
The sentencing came to a screeching halt, however, as Merlino was brought into the courtroom in a wheelchair. He was shaking and foaming at the mouth. It was rescheduled for Monday.
According to the Virginian-Pilot, a jail doctor suggested that Merlino might have been suffering from a stress-related mental condition. The prosecution and a jail spokeswoman suggested, on the other hand, there had been no signs of anything like this before Wednesday.
Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Mario Lorello said, “This came out of nowhere. We didn’t find out about it until this morning.”
Attorneys were stunned by the development in court on Wednesday. Tim Anderson, a Virginia Beach attorney, told WAVY that he’s “never seen this before.”
“If somebody was having some kind of seizure in court, the first thing that would happen is that they would call 911,” he said. Prosecutors even asked if Merlino was putting on an act.
Jail spokeswoman Kathy Hieatt did say that Merlino previously lost 40 pounds because he went on a hunger strike, but said that ended after the trial did in the summer. She also said that jail employees were not aware of Merlino’s condition.
In February 2017, Merlino “stuck something” in Ellie Tran’s leg. That turned out to be cyanide.
“That man stuck something in my leg and it hurts so bad,” she said. Tran had a young daughter named Jolie. Merlino is the father. Surveillance footage Tran installed and eyewitness testimony helped put Merlino behind bars. So did evidence of Merlino’s cyanide internet searches. Merlino claimed, however, that he was not in the area at the time of the killing.
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