New details in case of Virginia Beach man accused of killing wife on Valentine’s Day

Posted at 8:13 AM, Mar 31, 2017

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. - Joseph Merlino III injected his estranged wife with cyanide in an attack caught on home video surveillance, prosecutors said Friday during a bond hearing.

A judge denied granting Merlino bond, saying the charge against him is too serious. Merlino is charged with second degree murder after police say he killed Ellie Tran on Valentine's Day.

Tran and Merlino were estranged, but the two had a daughter together. Outside of court, Merlino's attorney, Richard Doummar, maintained his client is innocent, saying he wasn't in the area at the time of the crime. "[Merlino] was two and a half to three hours away when the crime took place," he said. "We intend to produce evidence to prove that at the appropriate time."

Inside of the courtroom, Doummar said Merlino was visiting his brother and mother in Victoria, Va. from Sunday through Wednesday of that week. The crime happened on Tuesday night, according to prosecutors. Merlino hit a deer with his car on the way to Victoria, and the car overheated. Doummar said there was no way he could've made the trip to Virginia Beach to kill Tran. He was found in Lunenburg, Virginia the day after Tran died. He is charged with second-degree murder in her death.

Prosecutors said Tran was living in fear of Merlino. They described other incidents, saying Merlino is under investigation for an attack in December when someone threw a caustic substance at Tran and tried to inject her with something. Friends of Tran said a man disguised as a woman attacked Ther outside of a nail salon where she worked.

In order to make the case that Merlino should not be released, prosecutors said police found materials to make explosives, as well as guns, during searches of his home and business. A SWAT team was used during the search, which closed streets for days. Prosecutors also said Merlino was planning to leave the country. He bought a plane ticket to China, where he had a fiancee, they said. He was in the process of liquidating his assets, as well.

Tran's family appeared very upset about the developments inside the courtroom. Prosecutors said Tran's mother identified Merlino as the attacker and say it was caught on home video surveillance. Doummar said Merlino's brother has seen the video and said it is not his brother.

Merlino is due back in court for a preliminary hearing on May 10.


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