Court Says No to Force Feeding Virginia Prisoner

Jun 27, 2018

Joseph Merlino
Credit Mug Shot

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (AP) - A judge has ruled a sheriff's office cannot force-feed a hunger-striking Virginia man convicted of fatally poisoning his ex-girlfriend.

WAVY-TV reports Judge Steven Frucci issued the ruling Tuesday in the case of 30-year-old Joseph Merlino III.

Virginia Beach Sheriff Ken Stolle had asked that staff to be allowed to force-feed Merlino after he began refusing meals in mid-April. Court documents say Merlino had expressed fears someone was trying to poison him, though jail staff said his explanation kept changing.

Merlino's attorney argued Virginia law doesn't allow a judge to order the involuntary feeding of someone unless they're incapacitated.

Merlino was convicted Friday of first-degree murder in a February 2017 attack on 35-year-old Ellie Tran, who was injected with cyanide.

A jury recommended a life sentence. Sentencing is scheduled Sept. 26.