Man convicted of murdering ex-girlfriend with cyanide gets life

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Joseph Merlino III Mugshot

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) — A man convicted of murdering his ex-girlfriend by injecting her with cyanide has been sentenced to life in prison.

WAVY’s Jason Marks reports a judge imposed the jury-recommended sentence for Joseph Merlino III during a hearing Monday morning. A jury found Merlino guilty of first-degree murder in the death of Ellie Tran following a week-long trial in June.

Merlino was originally scheduled to be sentenced Dec. 5, but the hearing was delayed after he entered the courtroom foaming at the mouth and showing symptoms of a seizure. 

“This was an erroneous conviction,” Merlino said.  “Time will always tell.”

In the minutes just after Joseph Merlino heard that he was going to spend the rest of his life in prison he still maintained his innocence.

Merlino said he didn’t kill his ex-wife Ellie Tran, but back in June a jury was convinced he did. 

Surveillance video shows Merlino injecting Tran with cyanide on Valentine’s Day 2017. Tran died a couple days later.

“This was a vile act and it a heinous act committed in an extraordinary way,” said Virginia Beach prosecutor Mario Lorello.  “He took steps to plan this and to plot this.”

Merlino told the judge was unhappy with his public defenders.  He said he fired them and they should not be speaking on his behalf.

“If I had competent and well endowed attorneys that actually knew the law and followed up with their clients instead of making instinctive decisions on their own without talking to their client absolutely it would be in a better situation,” Merlino said.

Merlino’s public defenders didn’t want to talk about his claims.

Merlino has been called a master manipulator.  He told 10 On Your Side he is the one who was manipulated.

“I asked for a jury for a reason,” Merlino added. “I believed in the system. I believed in the process and that process wasn’t granted to me, definitely not by my counsel and definitely not by prosecution, and definitely just by the judge.”

Merlino says he plans to appeal his conviction.

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