Convicted murderer’s sentencing delayed after he appears to be unconscious in court

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. -- A convicted murderer will not be sentenced for a few more days after he appeared to have passed out in court.

Joseph Merlino's case was continued to Monday after he came into the courtroom in a wheelchair and appeared to be unresponsive.

When Merlino was brought into the courtroom his eyes were closed, his mouth was open and he could be seen shaking uncontrollably. He also appeared to be foaming at the mouth, according to WTKR.

Wednesday was supposed to be Merlino's formal sentencing, but after seeing Merlino's condition and speaking to his doctor and a jail deputy the judge ultimately decided to continue the proceeding to a later date. This is the second time Merlino's sentencing has been rescheduled.

According to a jail deputy, Merlino began showing symptoms of an illness around 8 a.m., an hour and a half before his sentencing was scheduled to begin.

The Commonwealth Attorney asked a doctor if Merlino was malingering, or exaggerating or feigning an illness in order to escape an event. The doctor told the court Merlino has no physical condition that could have brought on these symptoms, but says they could be from stress.

Merlino spoke to WTKR from jail last week. During the interview, Merlino appeared in good health and spirits, saying he plans to appeal his murder conviction.

Kathy Hieatt of the Virginia Beach Sheriff's Office said that Merlino has not been on meal monitoring or a hunger strike.

Before his trial began, Merlino refused to eat for 79 days. That hunger strike ended on July 4th. Hieatt said Merlino had no emergent medical issues before Wednesday.

Merlino has been in jail since February 2017. His estranged wife, Ellie Tran, died after being attacked on Valentine's Day outside of her Virginia Beach home. Tran died of cyanide poisoning. It was determined that she was injected with the lethal substance.

Merlino was convicted of first degree murder in June 2018, and the jury recommended a life sentence.

Merlino's attorneys asked to continue his sentencing Wednesday because of his condition and not being able to respond. The judge has rescheduled the sentencing for Monday morning. If Merlino is still not well, the judge says he will hear arguments about whether or not they can still go froward with the sentencing.