He killed the mother of his child by injecting her with cyanide. He’ll serve life for it

Joseph "Joey" Vincent Merlino was convicted of first-degree murder. (Southside Daily photo/Courtesy of WAVY pool image)
Joseph “Joey” Vincent Merlino was convicted of first-degree murder. (Southside Daily file photo/Courtesy of WAVY pool image)

VIRGINIA BEACH — Joseph “Joey” Vincent Merlino III, the man a jury convicted in June for the first-degree murder of his estranged girlfriend, will serve life in prison.

Merlino was sentenced Monday. Prosecutors say he killed Ellie Tran, by injecting cyanide into her on Valentine’s Day 2017.

His attorneys argued that Merlino spend 20 to 34 years behind bars. The 31-year-old man maintained his innocence in the death of Tran. The two had a daughter.

Before his sentencing, Merlino lashed out in court against the media, prosecutors and his own defense.

Merlino’s sentencing was originally scheduled for last week. But it was postponed because he was unresponsive and foaming at the mouth when he was wheeled into court.

Merlino was on a hunger strike before his trial began and lost about 40 pounds. The strike ended shortly after the trial did.

According to the Virginia Beach Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office, security cameras from Tran’s home on Still Meadow Court showed Merlino waiting for Tran. As she approached her front door, Merlino ran up behind her and injected her with a substance.

Prosecutors said Tran became comatose within minutes of being injected, and died on Feb. 15 at Sentara Princess Anne Hospital of “cyanide poisoning.”

Related story: ‘She was so scared of him’: Friends recall relationship between murdered mother and accused ex

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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John Mangalonzo (john@localvoicemedia.com) is the managing editor of Local Voice Media’s Virginia papers – WYDaily (Williamsburg), Southside Daily (Virginia Beach) and HNNDaily (Hampton-Newport News). Before coming to Local Voice, John was the senior content editor of The Bellingham Herald, a McClatchy newspaper in Washington state. Previously, he served as city editor/content strategist for USA Today Network newsrooms in St. George and Cedar City, Utah. John started his professional journalism career shortly after graduating from Lyceum of The Philippines University in 1990. As a rookie reporter for a national newspaper in Manila that year, John was assigned to cover four of the most dangerous cities in Metro Manila. Later that year, John was transferred to cover the Philippine National Police and Armed Forces of the Philippines. He spent the latter part of 1990 to early 1992 embedded with troopers in the southern Philippines as they fought with communist rebels and Muslim extremists. His U.S. journalism career includes reporting and editing stints for newspapers and other media outlets in New York City, California, Texas, Iowa, Utah, Colorado and Washington state.