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Virginia Man Wanted For Killing Ex-Girlfriend Allegedly Confessed To Nephew
Joel Mosso Merino, who is wanted in the murder of his ex-girlfriend Hannah Choi, allegedly confessed to his nephew about killing her and hiding the body, court documents state.
Court documents filed by police in northern Virginia provide a new timeline in the case of a man wanted for the murder of his ex-girlfriend.
Joel Mosso Merino, 27, is wanted for second-degree murder and disposal of a body in the death of his recent ex-girlfriend, Hannah Choi, 35, which police believe likely occurred on March 5. Choi was reported missing on March 6 and a warrant was issued for Mosso Merino's arrest in mid-March.
Choi's remains were recovered in Maryland's Piscataway Park on March 24.
According to a search warrant in the case, obtained by Washington, D.C. ABC affiliate WJLA and CBS affiliate WUSA, police were called to Choi and Mosso Merino's house on Jesmond Street in Alexandria, Virginia — just outside the southern portion of the Capitol Beltway — on March 6 by a friend who was there to help Choi stage the home for sale. She said Choi wasn't responding to texts or phone calls and had missed an appointment at work, in addition to being absent for their meeting about the staging. When she couldn't reach Choi, the friend walked to the back of the townhome and discovered that the sliding glass door was open.
Choi had a houseguest staying at the home, who told police that she'd come home well after midnight on March 6 and found the front door closed but unlocked — an unusual occurrence — and a bag with Outback Steakhouse leftovers left out in the kitchen, according to WUSA. She put the bag in the fridge, noticed Choi's bedroom door shut, and went to bed.
When two women encountered each other inside Choi's home, they went looking for her and discovered that a window had been left open, Choi's bed had been stripped and the bedclothes were gone, and that there were red stains on the mattress and carpet that appeared someone had tried to clean up, possibly with a nearby bottle of pet stain remover, according to the stations.
They called police.
Choi, another friend later told police, had just broken up with Mosso Merino. The friend added that she'd spoken with Choi around 4:30 p.m. on March 5, and was told that the pair were about to meet at Outback Steakhouse for a "goodbye" dinner, according to WJLA.
That same day, a man went into a local Fairfax County police station not far from Choi's house to report an issue with his black Kia Soul. The man reportedly lent the car to Mosso Merino's nephew who, without the permission of the owner, lent it to Mosso Merino. He hadn't gotten the car back yet.
Police contacted the nephew later on March 6, who told them he'd had a disturbing conversation with Mosso Merino at another relative's house, according to WJLA's review of the warrant in the case.
An "agitated" Mosso Merino allegedly told the nephew that, after the dinner on March 5, he was drunk and he and Choi had an argument during which he hit her. The nephew told police that Mosso Merino claimed that Choi might have fallen and hit her head; Mosso Merino told his nephew that, not knowing what else to do, he put Choi's body in the borrowed Kia Soul and drove it to Piscataway Park, according to the warrant reviewed by WJLA.
A surveillance camera in the neighborhood showed both Choi's white BMW in her driveway all night on March 5 and a black Kia Soul arriving around 7:30 p.m. on March 5 and departing around 12:30 a.m. on March 6, according to police.
Detectives found the Kia Soul at the house of another relative of Mosso Merino in northwest D.C. and searched it on March 7. In the footwell of the backseat, they found white bedding — consistent with what Choi's friend and houseguest reported missing — soiled with what appeared to be bloodstains, WJLA reported. On top of the stained bedding was a black trash bag with a bloody floor mat inside. The car, police said, smelled strongly of cleaning products.
Police told WJLA that they'd focused on Piscataway Park — a 5,000 acre area with what the National Park Service terms significant "undeveloped" areas — because Mosso Merino's digital footprint showed that he spend significant time there immediately around the time of Choi's disappearance. Investigators searched 800 acres for two days after her disappearance, according to two statements by the Fairfax County Police, and had planned to return to the search on March 25 before her body was discovered in a wooded area they hadn't searched on March 24.
Police said in their statements that, prior to the murder, Mosso Merino had purchased an airline ticket to fly to Los Angeles on March 8, but he never arrived on that flight. They believed he went instead to the Atlanta, Georgia area, possibly lived under an assumed name, they told WUSA.
Police told WJLA this week that they believe Mosso Merino may have returned to the Washington, D.C. metro area since then.
There is a $40,000 reward available for information that leads to his arrest, police announced. That money came from a now-closed GoFundMe launched by Choi's family, who plans to donate any additional funds not allocated to the reward, a memorial for Choi or legal expenses to KAN-WIN, a non-profit whose "mission is to eradicate gender-based violence, including domestic violence and sexual assault, especially for women and children across Asian American communities and beyond."
Police have asked anyone with information about Merino's location to contact detectives at 703-246-7800, option 2, or to submit anonymously through Crime Solvers by phone (1-866-411-TIPS (866-411-8477), by text (send the word “FCCS” plus the tip to 847411) or by web.