A 31-year-old Virginia man faces life in prison at his sentencing next week for fatally poisoning an ex-girlfriend by injecting her with cyanide on Valentine’s Day 2017, according to multiple news reports.
Joseph Merlino III was convicted in June of the first-degree murder of Ellie Tran, 35, according to the Virginian-Pilot. Jurors soon after recommended a life sentence for Merlino, who was originally scheduled for sentencing on Wednesday.
The judge however postponed the penalty phase of the case until Monday after Merlino — unresponsive and foaming from the mouth — was wheeled into court on an upright gurney, covered in a blanket, rocking from side to side, the Virginian-Pilot reports.
Further details about Merlino’s medical state were not available but a jail doctor testified at the hearing that he could be suffering from a mental condition induced by the stress of his imprisonment, local TV station WTKR reports.
According to authorities, Merlino had been lying in wait for Tran at her Virginia Beach home when he approached her from behind on the evening of Feb. 14, 2017, and injected her with the deadly substance, reports the Virginian-Pilot.
She was attacked as she walked from her car to her front door, according to WTKR.
Tran and Merlino share a child and were fighting over custody when he killed her, according to the Virginian-Pilot.
“Justice has been made under American law,” Tran’s sister said after Merlino was found guilty, the Virginian-Pilot reports. “We just want to say thank you. Thank you so very much.”
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The entire altercation was captured by surveillance cameras which Tran had installed after Merlino had earlier tried breaking into her home, according to TV station WAVY.
Tran was declared brain-dead hours after being injected with cyanide and she died the following day, the Virginian-Pilot reports.
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Prosecutors said Merlino had used the internet to research cyanide poisoning, according to the Virginian-Pilot. Throughout the trial, Merlino — who took the stand in his own defense — insisted he had nothing to do with Tran’s death and argued he was more than 100 miles away.
He reportedly waged a hunger strike two months before the start of his trial, losing 40 lbs., but relented once his trial ended.
He previously told WTKR that he will appeal his conviction, claiming: “From what I’m reading, it should be an automatic reversal of a new trial.”