Prosecutors: VB murder suspect searched for needles, cyanide


VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) — Virginia Beach prosecutors continued to usher out mounting  evidence they say proves Joseph Merlino injected his ex-girlfriend Ellie Tran with cyanide.

An undercover Virginia Beach police officer who analyzes computers testified he found searches for the words “needle” and “cyanide” on Merlino’s laptop.

He told the jury there were web searches for “high quality syringes,” “gas mask with filter cyanide gas,” “what if cyanide gets in the blood stream?” ‘how many milligrams of cyanide will kill you?” and “butt needle injections.”

Prosecutors say Tran was injected in her upper leg on February 14, 2017.  She died the next day.

The commonwealth also called a Virginia Beach pizza shop owner to testify.  She told the jury that Merlino was in the restaurant every day in January.  The owner said one day a package arrived and Merlino walked into the kitchen, grabbed the package and left.

A woman from New Hampshire then testified she sold a vintage steel syringe on Etsy to someone in Virginia Beach.  She shipped the package to a pizza restaurant.

Merlino is in the middle of a two-month-long hunger strike. Deputies told the jury he came into the jail weighing 150 pounds and has lost 40 pounds.

Prosecutors showed this video of the alleged crime Wednesday and they believe Merlino wasn’t eating so he would alter his appearance from the suspect in the video.

Defense attorneys told the jury there was no way Merlino could have injected Tran with cyanide, because he wasn’t in the area at the time.  They say he was in Victoria, Virginia, visiting his family, almost three hours from the crime scene.

Prosecutors called FBI Special Agent Wendell Cosonzia, who maps out cell phone locations to the stand.  He told the jury that on February 14, 2017, the day of the crime, Merlino’s cell phone was in Victoria, but had no outbound text messages or calls.

“It’s hard to tell if anyone had their hands on his phone,” Cosonzia said.

There was no cell phone activity for 5 p.m. that night until 11 the next morning.

Virginia Beach jail deputes testified they sent letters confiscated from Merlino to the FBI.  They believe the letters were written in code.

Jeanne Anderson, a FBI cryptanalysis said she deciphered a letter in a matter of minutes.

Prosecutors had her read portions of the letters.  She told the jury Merlino asked his mother and his girlfriend who lives in China to fabricate stories with witnesses.

She read a section where Merlino allegedly wanted his girlfriend to create a chat log for his whereabouts on February 14. He wanted her to have a friend or two testify that they saw them face chatting at the time of the murder.

He told her if this is done “we will 1000 percent have a fast victory.”

“We a lot of cards up our selves,” Merlino wrote.  “We are one team and we have to work together.”

On Friday, the prosecution will call its last witness to the stand.  The defense is expected to call five witnesses.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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