Trial set for man accused of killing estranged wife on Valentine’s Day


VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) — A Virginia Beach man will stand trial on May 22 in the Virginia Beach Circuit Court for the murder of his estranged wife on Valentine’s Day of last year.

Joseph Merlino III was charged with first and second-degree murder in the death of 35-year-old Ellie Tran. Police say Tran died two days after being attacked in her driveway. 

Prosecutors say someone pinned Tran to the ground and injected her with a deadly amount of cyanide on the evening of Feb. 14 of 2017. They believe it was Merlino.

According to court documents, Tran took out an emergency protective order against Merlino in July of 2016. She withdrew the order five months later.

Court documents that were unsealed in November of last year revealed the Virginia Beach SWAT team found several guns, ammunition, gun parts, a Kevlar vest, camouflage helmet and a tactical vest when they raided Merlino’s Virginia Beach home on Warner Hall Drive.

The court documents say police also found multiple blue plastic containers will a number of chemicals and substances in his home and a blue bottle with a white substance hiding in the walls of his cell phone repair shop.

An FBI agent told police, “cyanide can come in powder form and in crystal form and can be mixed with liquid to be able to be injected using a needle,” according to the court documents.

A judge upgraded Merlino’s charges in September of 2017.

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