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Accused murderer on hunger strike to appears Virginia Beach court

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. – It will be another week before a judge rules on whether or not  the Virginia Beach City Jail can force feed one of their inmates.

Joseph Merlino

Joseph Merlino has been on a hunger strike since April 16, according to jail staff. They say he has drank water and other liquids but has refused all food.

Jail staff say Merlino has lost more than 40 pounds since he began refusing food. He is currently on suicide watch because staff fears he could die of cardiac arrest at any minute.

Merlino was arrested in February 2017. He is facing murder charges in the death of his wife Elle Tran. According to police, Tran was injected with cyanide outside of her Virginia Beach home.

Her family says Tran and Merlino were estranged. They have one daughter together who is currently with Tran’s parents.

During his Wednesday court appearance, a Virginia Beach Circuit Court judge decided Merlino’s hunger strike is a civil matter, not a criminal one. On June 25th, a civil judge will now hear the motion brought by the city attorney to allow the jail to force feed Merlino.

If a judge grant’s the city attorney’s motion to force feed Merlino a feeding tube type apparatus will be put in by a medical professional.

During today’s proceeding, the defense also filed a motion to have Merlino’s trial pushed back to a later date. They argued that they lost a week of prep because they were dealing with Merlino’s hunger strike motions. They say losing that amount of time so close to trial will hinder their ability to serve their client.

The prosecution used one word to describe Merlino’s hunger strike; manipulation. They say his actions are all in an effort to push back the case. They put two deputies on the stand today who spoke about their interactions with Merlino and gave examples that they say show that he is trying to work the system to his favor. Their third witness was Tran’s older sister who lives in Vietnam and has a visa to stay in the United States until September. If the trial is pushed back she would have to return to Vietnam and would not be able to help her parents understand what is going on in the trial, since she is the only one who speaks English.

The judge ultimately denied the motion to continue the trial. It is scheduled to begin on June 19th.

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