New details have emerged in the murder of a Virginia woman whose alleged killer is wanted by law enforcement across the country.
Court documents obtained Wednesday by Washington, D.C. area ABC outlet WJLA, reportedly contain a “timeline” of 35-year-old Hannah Choi’s early March 2022 slaying and why police believe her ex-boyfriend, Joel Mosso Merino, 27, is the man who killed her.
As Law&Crime previously reported, Merino was charged with murder in the second degree and felony disposal of a body late last month.
A detective compiled several events in an affidavit for a search warrant filed in Fairfax County Court that sought information about the defendant’s cellular phone and data, the former couple’s Facebook accounts, Choi’s home and a missing 2011 black Kia Soul.
On March 6, 2022, police responded to the deceased woman’s home after a missing persons report was filed. The caller told authorities that Choi had missed two work appointments and was not responding to calls or text messages. The woman who called said she was scheduled to stage Choi’s home for sale in Alexandria, Va. that day and that she let herself in. Inside the home, the woman said, she found the glass sliding door open as well as a blood stain on Choi’s bed.
Choi also had a houseguest who relayed additional suspect details. The guest told police she found the front door closed but unlocked during the early morning hours that day–as well as a takeout bag with uneaten food from Outback Steakhouse. The guest, she said, put the food in the refrigerator and then went to sleep–noticing that her friend’s bedroom door was closed. When the other woman arrived the next day, both decided that Choi was missing and noted that the windows and a sliding door in the basement were unusually left open, the detective wrote in the warrant application.
The two women also learned that Choi’s bedding and a heavy white blanket were nowhere to be found. But there was something new in the bedroom: a wet spot and a stain next to the bed that smelled like chemicals as well as a spray bottle of pet cleaner on Choi’s nightstand, according to court documents obtained by the TV station.
The first friend also said she had talked to Choi on the phone the night before. The victim had described her plans for something of a “goodbye dinner” where she would be leaving Merino just as she was walking into the restaurant, according to a review of those same court records by Washington, D.C.-based CBS affiliate WUSA.
A separate but related set of circumstances led police to directly connect Merino to Choi’s disappearance and, eventually, her death.
That same day, a man walked into Fairfax County’s Franconia District Police Station and made his case about his missing black Kia Soul.
Police say the man told them that he lent his car to a family member of Merino’s who, in turn, then allegedly lent the car to the defendant. Following up on the line of custody, detectives spoke to that family member who allegedly relayed a conversation he recently had with the suspect at another relative’s home in the nation’s capital.
Details of that alleged conversation would constitute the presumed motive and an admission of violence. Merino allegedly told his family that he discovered some evidence Choi had been cheating on him. After making this discovery, Merino allegedly said, the two argued and the defendant struck Choi, causing her to fall and hit her head.
According to WUSA, Merino’s nephew told police that his uncle was drunk at the time of the incident and “didn’t know what to do.”
But according to the affidavit, Merino, described as “agitated and upset,” admitted to disposing of Choi’s body in Maryland’s Piscataway Park using the twice-borrowed Kia.
Additionally, police cited a neighbor’s surveillance footage that appears to show a black Kia parked outside of Choi’s home on the evening she was last seen alive. There for roughly five hours, the Kia can be seen departing around 12:30 a.m. the next day.
The car was eventually found at the relative’s home. Police obtained permission to search it, they said, and discovered white bedding covered in “stains consistent with blood.”
Choi’s body was eventually discovered in the park on March 24, 2022.
“We are relieved to know that Hannah has been found,” Hannah’s sister Minna Choi said in a statement. “Our family finally has an opportunity for closure and requests privacy at this difficult time.”
A GoFundMe started by the younger sister raised nearly $54,000 in reward money for information leading to Merino’s capture:
Unfortunately, not only was her life taken from us through a senseless act of alleged domestic violence, but her remains also have yet to be recovered, denying my family the ability to send her off to be at peace. Moreover, Joel Mosso Merino, her suspected killer, is still on the run.
My family believes the quickest way to recover my sister’s remains is to find her killer.
To help in this endeavor, our family will be putting up a reward for any credible information that directly leads to the arrest of Joel Mosso Merino. We are launching this fund to contribute to that reward so that we can find her as quickly as possible. We would deeply appreciate any help that can be offered at this time.
“Known to family, friends, and colleagues for being a ‘Superwoman,’ Hannah was the person her friends and family went to if ever trouble or in need – she was there, facing any challenge head-on with her loved ones,” the Choi family recently said in a statement provided to Law&Crime announcing the reward money. “She was brave, strong, ambitious, independent, a dreamer, and she was an entrepreneur down to her very core. Above all, she loved her family and friends passionately.”
Police say they believe the wanted man is currently in Atlanta using an assumed name. He allegedly bought an airline ticket to Southern California but never boarded the flight.
“He’s actively wanted for murder, so use caution,” Fairfax County Police Department’s Bureau Chief for Major Crimes Ed O’Carroll said at a press conference last month. “If you know his whereabouts call 911 immediately notify law enforcement right away.”
Merino is currently considered Fairfax County’s most wanted suspect.
[images via Fairfax Police Department]
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