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.
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