VB cyanide murder suspect, two months into hunger strike, won’t have trial delayed


VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) — The man accused of poisoning his ex-girlfriend to death continues not to eat inside the Virginia Beach jail.

Joseph Merlino is accused of injecting 35-year-old Ellie Tran with cyanide on Valentine’s Day 2017.

Wednesday, Merlino spoke for the first time from jail to 10 On Your Side’s Jason Marks.

“I’m completely innocent and the truth will come out during the trial,” Merlino said.

That trial for Joesph Merlino will be begin next week and it will begin on an empty stomach. Merlino is in the middle of a 57-day hunger strike.

“I’ve been in isolation for 60 days,” Merlino added. “I’ve been in a cold room around 60 degrees and completely naked.” 

Merlino has been in jail for 15 months. He says he feels like he has been treated guilty until proven innocent.

“What’s it like to being held for 15 months for something I didn’t do,” he asked?  “The pain and anguish over the loss of a loved one I can’t even put into words.”

Sheriff Ken Stolle is asking for the judge to allow Merlino to be force fed.  The sheriff says he should have the right to keep an inmate alive.

“I don’t think anybody should come to jail and die,” Stolle said.

Stolle says Merlino’s condition is getting worse.  Staff checks on him every 15 minutes and it is costing the taxpayers $100,000 a week for his care.

“It would be a real perversion of the constitution to interpret the constitution that Virginia can kill people, but you can’t save their lives,” Stolle added.  “It doesn’t make any sense to me.”

On Wednesday a circuit court judge ruled that the sheriff’s case has to be heard in front of a civil court judge.  The hearing is scheduled for June 25.

If the judge rules for the sheriff, Merlino will be fed though a tube inserted down his throat.  That won’t happen until after his trial has begun next week.

“I’m supposed to be innocent until proven guilty and the day I walked in that’s not how it was,” Merlino said.

Merlino’s attorneys also asked a judge for a continuance of his trial. They are worried that he won’t have the stamina to make it through.

The judge denied the request saying it was Merlino’s fault for not eating and he can stop the hunger strike at any time.

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