Preliminary hearing set for man accused of Valentine’s Day murder

  • Oanh Le, 64, holds a photograph of her daughter, Ellie Mizon Tran on Feb. 18, 2017. The 35-year-old woman died on Feb. 15, 2017 after being attacked in her driveway on Valentine's Day. Her ex-boyfriend, 29-year-old Joseph “Joey” Vincent Merlino III, has been charged with second-degree murder in connection with her death. (Adrienne Mayfield/Southside Daily)

  • Ellie Mizon Tran, 35, died on Feb. 15, 2017 after her estranged-husband, Joseph Merlino, allegedly attacked her on Valentine's Day. (Courtesy of Facebook)

  • Joseph Vincent Merlino III was arrested on Feb. 16, 2017 in connection with the Valentine's Day death of his estranged wife, Ellie Mizon Tran. (Courtesy of the Virginia Beach Police Department)

  • Julie Merlino, 2, makes a silly face while her grandparents, Thuan Tran, 70 (left) and Oanh Le, 64, (right), hold her. (Adrienne Mayfield/Southside Daily)

  • A group of Ellie Tran's friends and supporters stand outside of the Virginia Beach courthouse on Feb. 22, 2017 to protest a bond hearing for Joseph "Joey" Vincent Merlino III. Merlino is accused of murdering Tran on Valentine's Day. (Adrienne Mayfield/Southside Daily)

  • A group of Ellie Tran's friends and supporters stand outside of the Virginia Beach courthouse on Feb. 22, 2017 to protest a bond hearing for Joseph "Joey" Vincent Merlino III. Merlino is accused of murdering Tran on Valentine's Day. (Adrienne Mayfield/Southside Daily)

  • A group of Ellie Tran's friends and supporters stand outside of the Virginia Beach courthouse on Feb. 22, 2017 to protest a bond hearing for Joseph "Joey" Vincent Merlino III. Merlino is accused of murdering Tran on Valentine's Day. (Adrienne Mayfield/Southside Daily)

Southsidedaily.com is your source for free local news and information in Virginia Beach

VIRGINIA BEACH — A preliminary hearing has been set in the case against a 29-year-old man accused of murdering his ex-girlfriend on Valentine’s Day.

Joseph “Joey” Vincent Merlino III was charged with second-degree murder on Feb. 16 in connection with the death of 35-year-old Ellie Tran.

Tran died on Feb. 15 in Sentara Princess Anne Hospital, about a day after she was attacked in her Still Meadow Court driveway.

The Tidewater Chief Medical Examiner’s office is working to find out how Tran died, but police believe Merlino “touched her in a manner that caused her to be ill,” said Virginia Beach Master Police Officer Tonya Pierce.

Tran’s family said that when she was attacked around 8 p.m. on Valentine’s Day she quickly became so sick that she collapsed, couldn’t speak, lost consciousness and needed a breathing tube.

Merlino is scheduled to appear in Virginia Beach Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court on May 10. He will be represented by defense attorney Richard Doummar.

On Feb. 22, Doummar said Merlino will plead not guilty to the charge against him.

Doummar is the same attorney who represented Merlino in July 2016 when Tran brought an assault charge against him after he allegedly attacked her in front of their 2-year-old daughter, Jolie.

In a July 11 criminal complaint, Tran described Merlino grabbing her neck, restraining her hands and feet and hanging her upside down with her head almost touching the ground while Jolie cried and screamed.

“My boyfriend scared me. He told me he will put me under the ground behind his house,” Tran wrote.

Merlino was charged with assault against a family member. The charge was dismissed with prejudice, and Merlino was fined $1,000.

“My recollection is that both sides dropped the case,” Doummar said.

Mayfield can be reached at adrienne.m@southsidedaily.com.