Appearing as if he was the one pumped up with some sort of lethal substance, a Virginia man who poisoned his former girlfriend with a cyanide injection has had his sentencing hearing postponed after he appeared in court foaming at the mouth and seemingly unresponsive.
Joseph Merlino III, who was found guilty of killing his ex-girlfriend, entered the Virginia Beach court on Wednesday shifting side to side on a gurney-like wheelchair, the Virginia Pilot reports.
A jail deputy said he started showing signs of illness roughly an hour and a half before the hearing started, around 8 a.m., according to local news channel WTKR.
"This came out of nowhere," Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Mario Lorello later said, according to the paper. "We didn't find out about it until this morning."
A jail doctor said the convict might be suffering from a mental condition caused by stress. As a result, Judge Les Lilley delayed Merlino’s hearing until Monday.
Prosecutors, however, now plan to look into whether or not Merlino’s presence is required for a formal sentencing, as this is the second time it’s been rescheduled, according to WTKR.
A jury convicted Merlino, the former owner of a cellphone repair shop in Oceanfront, Virginia, of first-degree murder for killing Ellie Tran, 35, in June 2017. They recommended a life sentence.
The attack occurred at about 8 p.m. on Valentine's Day the same year, as Tran, who was locked in a custody dispute with Merlino over the couple’s then-2-year-old daughter, was walking up to the front door of her home.
Merlino grabbed Tran from behind and proceeded to inject her with cyanide, an extremely lethal poison that can result in almost immediate death in high enough doses.
Tran, however, was declared brain-dead before dying the next day.
The murder was caught on surveillance cameras Tran had recently installed at the house in response to an earlier break-in attempt by Merlino, the Pilot reports.
Oanh Le, Tran’s mother, told the court during his trial that she saw Merlino across the street right after the attack, the Pilot reports.
Prosecutors also brought forth evidence that Merlino used his computer to make several searches about cyanide just weeks before he injected Tran.
Merlino, meanwhile, went on a hunger strike two months before the trial was set to begin and lost about 40 pounds in the process. His strike ended shortly after the trial did.
Kathy Hieatt, a jail spokeswoman, told the Pilot that Merlino “hasn’t been on meal monitoring for quite some time,” adding that institution officials didn’t have any knowledge about any previous medical conditions that could have explained Wednesday's incident.
[Photo Credit: Virginia Beach Police Department]
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