Judge rules Virginia Beach man found guilty of poisoning wife with cyanide cannot be force-fed

Posted at 4:54 PM, Jun 26, 2018
and last updated 2018-06-26 16:54:17-04

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. – A judge denied the request Tuesday for the Virginia Beach City Jail to force-feed the man who was recently found guilty for poisoning his estranged wife with cyanide on Valentine’s Day 2017.

The Virginia Beach Sheriff’s Office told News 3’s Allison Mechanic the judge’s reasoning was because Joseph Merlino is competent and that didn’t feel he had the authority to force such a decision. Merlino has been on a hunger strike in the Virginia Beach City Jail since April 16.

Because of the ruling, Merlino has been taken out of medical isolation, where he was being checked on every 15 minutes, and has been put back into the general population. Seven deputies were watching him around the clock to make sure he was still alive.

The sheriff’s office said nearly $100,000 in resources has been spent on Merlino and that it is unfair for taxpayers to spend that much when the strike was a choice he made on his own. As a result, the extra care has stopped.

Merlino was getting bottled water and Gatorade, both of which have been taken away from him. He will now have to drink what all the other inmates have access to.

The sheriff’s office said the jail has a legal obligation to feed and care for all inmates. They started the process because they wanted to prevent Merlino from killing himself and because they don’t want to see anyone die in their care, but now their hands are tied because of the judge’s ruling.