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Man accused of injecting wife with cyanide back in court

Joseph Merlino

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va - Two months before his trial, Joseph Merlino is back in a Virginia Beach courtroom for a motions hearing.

Merlino is charged with murder in the death of his estranged wife, Ellie Tran. According to Virginia Beach Police, Tran died in February 2017 after being injected with cyanide.

Prosecutors say Tran was attacked in her driveway by Merlino, who grabbed her and injected the poison into her leg. Merlino and Tran were estranged but had a daughter together. The attack was caught on surveillance video and Tran's mother Oanh Le identified Merlino as the attacker.

Merlino walked into the courtroom Wednesday morning wearing a yellow jumpsuit and extra restraints. According to a spokesperson with the Virginia Beach Jail, inmates wear yellow jumpsuits when they are on disciplinary status for being assaultive or breaking some other facility rule. The spokesperson says these inmates often have extra restraints placed on them when they go to court for safety reasons, especially if the deputies have reason to believe they may be a threat or may try to flee.

In court Wednesday, Merlino's two new attorneys asked for the trial venue to be moved out of Virginia Beach and for certain evidence to be excluded from trial.

According to the defense, extensive media coverage of Merlino's arrest and Tran's death will make it impossible to seat an unbiased jury. The Commonwealth disagreed, saying there are rules in place to ensure that a fair jury is seated. They also argued that this is not the first time Virginia Beach has had a high-profile case.  The judge sided with the Commonwealth.

The other motion brought up by the defense was to have several pieces of evidence excluded from trial. The defense says ammunition, tactical gear, gun paraphernalia and chemicals found at Merlino's Virginia Beach home and business would unfairly impact the jury. The judge again disagreed.

Merlino has maintained his innocence since his arrest which was shortly after Tran's death.

His trial is scheduled to begin June 19.

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