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Murder suspect’s hunger strike goes 50 days

VIRGINIA BEACH (AP) A murder suspect in Virginia Beach is on a hunger strike that has lasted more than 50 days, prompting prosecutors to seek permission to have him force-fed.

The Virginian-Pilot reports city prosecutor Christianna Cunningham said at an emergency court hearing Thursday that 30-year-old Joseph Vincent Merlino III began declining his meals April 16. Merlino is charged with first-degree murder in the death of his ex-girlfriend, Ellie Tran, who was attacked and injected with cyanide in February 2017.

The judge postponed the case until Wednesday, after receiving Merlino’s assurance that he would drink liquids in the meantime. The case will be heard as part of a criminal docket, which would allow Merlino’s public defenders to represent him.

City jail spokeswoman Kathy Hieatt says hunger strikes of this length are uncommon. Merlino has lost an estimated 40 pounds.

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