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Judge denies trial delay for defendant on hunger strike

VIRGINIA BEACH (AP) A Virginia Beach judge has refused to delay a trial for a murder suspect who’s refused to eat for the past two months.

The Virginian-Pilot reports Circuit Judge Steven Frucci refused June 13 to delay the trial, set to start June 19.

Thirty-year-old Joseph Vincent Merlino III is charged with first-degree murder in the death of his ex-girlfriend Ellie Tran. Tran died after being attacked and injected with cyanide on Valentine’s Day 2017. Merlino began declining meals on April 16.

Assistant Public Defender Richard Clark says Merlino won’t be strong enough to get through the trial. He also says hunger strike-related issues have cost the defense time it would’ve spent preparing for the trial. Frucci says Merlino seems competent and that Merlino’s own actions have caused the defense’s problems.

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