Murder suspect down more than 40 pounds due to hunger strike in Virginia Beach Jail

Joseph Merlino

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. – The man accused of killing his estranged wife by injecting her with cyanide has been refusing to eat since April, according to a Virginia Beach Sheriff’s Department spokesperson.

Joseph Merlino was arrested in February 2017. He has been charged with murder in the death of Ellie Tran. Merlino has been behind bars since his arrest, jail staff says he has had several violation behind bars and is now on suicide watch because he has stopped eating.

Kathy Hieatt, with the Virginia Beach Sheriff’s Department says Merlino’s hunger strike began April 16. While he has been drinking water and at times other liquids, he has refused all food. According to Hieatt, Merlino is down 40 pounds. When he first arrived at the jail, he weighed approximately 155 pounds, now jail staff says he is closer to 112 pounds.

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Due to the severity of his weight loss, the Assistant City Attorney of Virginia Beach filed an emergency motion to try and force feed Merlino.

The motion was continued until June 13. Jail staff are checking on Merlino every 15-minutes to make sure he still responsive. They say water and food is being kept in his cell at all times in case he decides to eat.

When asked about Merlino’s reasons behind his hunger strike, jail staff could only say that his reasons are “changing”.

Merlino’s murder trial is expected to begin on June 19.