VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) — A man accused of killing his estranged wife on Valentine’s Day appeared in court Friday.
29-year-old Joseph Merlino III is charged with second-degree murder in the death of 35-year-old Ellie Tran.
On Friday, the case against Merlino was moved from General District Court to Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court.
An investigation at Merlino’s home began Thursday morning as officers served a search warrant. Police said the activity near the Red Mill Shopping Center Thursday was part of a murder investigation.
Police responded to a report of a malicious assault in the 1000 block of Still Meadow Court around 8 p.m. Tuesday. Tran told police someone attacked her in her driveway, but she didn’t know who it was.
She went to the hospital in critical condition and later died Wednesday evening.
Police aren’t yet saying how Tran was killed but court records show there was not a gun used in the crime.
Tran’s estranged husband, Merlino, was identified as the suspect. Court records show he was arrested in Lunenberg, Virginia Tuesday. Merlino’s mother lives in Farmville, according to records. Farmville isn’t far from where Merlino was arrested.
Court records also show Merlino has a history of traffic tickets and code violations, but no prior criminal history.
Police say the couple has a 2-year-old daughter, who is being cared for by family members.
Merlino lives at a home on Warner Hall Drive. Authorities closed off roads and evacuated nearby homes as they served the warrant Thursday because of the fear of hazardous substances inside the residence.
Hazmat and officers were at a house on Warner Hall Drive from around 10 a.m. Thursday. A robot was sent in first, followed by officers in plastic suits. 10 On Your Side has learned dangerous substances were found inside, but police would not elaborate.
Nimmo Parkway between General Booth Boulevard and Upton Drive was closed for several hours as police investigated. The road reopened Thursday evening.
Police returned to the residence on Friday.
Neighbors say Merlino’s life has been in a tailspin since his father passed away six years ago.
“It is concerning,” one neighbor said.
Tran’s neighbors were in shock.
“I was like, oh my God,” Jan Dubeau said. “I just don’t believe this happened. I really don’t.”
Merlino is being held inside the Virginia Beach City Jail without bond. He is set to be arraigned Tuesday and will have a bond hearing Wednesday.