True Crime News Roundup: Body of Hannah Choi Found In Maryland, Ex-Boyfriend Remains At Large

Plus: Elderly Ohio man shoots teenager intruder; Charles Manson follower Leslie Van Houten parole blocked; ex-cop Amber Guyger’s murder conviction upheld; and scandal continues to roil megachurch Hillsong.

April 01, 2022
Hannah Choi (l) was last seen March 5, 2022 in the Alexandria section of Fairfax County. Hannah is 5’4”, 125 lbs. She has brown eyes and black hair. Hannah has a tattoo of a Chinese symbol on her ankle. Joel Mosso Merino (r) is suspected in her murder. He has black hair and brown eyes.

Hannah Choi (l) was last seen March 5, 2022 in the Alexandria section of Fairfax County. Hannah is 5’4”, 125 lbs. She has brown eyes and black hair. Hannah has a tattoo of a Chinese symbol on her ankle. Joel Mosso Merino (r) is suspected in her murder. He has black hair and brown eyes.

Photo by: Fairfax County Police Department via Facebook

Fairfax County Police Department via Facebook

By: Aaron Rasmussen

The body of a Virginia woman missing since early last month is located in Maryland.

Forensic tests confirm the human remains a passerby discovered in Piscataway Park in Fort Washington, Maryland, on March 24 belong to missing Virginia woman Hannah Choi, Fairfax police said at a news conference.

Choi, 35, was reported missing on March 6, and investigators zeroed in on her ex-boyfriend, 27-year-old Joel Merino, as a suspect in the case.

Detectives learned Merino and Choi spent the last evening she was known to be alive together at the home they still shared following a recent breakup, and they believe Choi was struck and killed when the two got into an argument, The Washington Post reported.

Merino failed to board a flight to California he was scheduled to take on March 8, police said, noting the suspect, who is wanted on second-degree murder and disposal of a body charges, was last spotted in Atlanta, Georgia, but could now be anywhere.

“Joel, if you're listening to me, turn yourself in,” Major Ed O'Carroll said at the March 28 news conference. “Surrender on your terms at a time and place of your choosing or be arrested on ours. You can tell your story and you enjoy a presumption of innocence.”

Results of an autopsy to determine Choi’s cause of death are pending, police said.

The victim’s younger sister, Minna Choi, said finding her sibling’s body doesn’t bring her back but the family can finally get “a little bit of semblance of closure.”

“I always knew my sister was a social butterfly. She had so many friends and connections. The past couple weeks have shown us in particular how much of an impact she had on peoples' lives around her,” she noted at the news conference. “We will always remember her as someone who was brave, strong, independent, and someone who dedicated her life to helping others.”

Police are offering a $40,000 reward for information leading to Merino’s arrest, and anyone with information on his whereabouts is asked to call the Fairfax County Police Department at (703) 246-7800, or Fairfax County Crime Solvers at (866) 411-TIPS.

More Hillsong pastors leave the megachurch in the wake of ongoing scandals.

Controversy continues to roil the rankings of the megachurch Hillsong as more senior pastors step down from their positions not long after the release of the in-depth three-part discovery+ docuseries Hillsong: A Megachurch Exposed.

On March 27, Phoenix-based Terry and Judith Crist said they were withdrawing from Hillsong after a decade as part of the Pentecostal church’s network following a global restructuring they said stripped them of making decisions for their congregation and any sense of accountability, the New York Post reported.

“I was told this past week it is ‘all or nothing’ — we either had to allow the global board to govern our church and to own our properties or we had to leave,” Terry Crist said during a March 27 sermon. “So with great sadness, I chose to leave.”

Hillsong: A Megachurch Exposed

Dive into the alleged exploitation, abuse and cover-ups at the star-studded Hillsong megachurch founded by Brian Houston.

Stream now on discovery+

Hillsong officials announced on March 23 that Brian Houston was resigning from his role as global senior pastor amid allegations of misconduct.

Last summer, Australian authorities charged Houston with concealing child sex abuse, alleging he had information concerning his late father, Frank Houston, and a juvenile boy in the 1970s but failed to report it to police.

He adamantly denies the allegation against him.

An elderly man in Ohio shoots a teenage boy during an alleged home invasion.

Shortly before 7:30 a.m. on March 29, Akron police responded to the report of a break in and shooting and found a 16-year-old boy suffering multiple gunshot wounds.

“I heard this hellacious crash, and he comes running right through my front door,” the homeowner told WOIO, explaining he was lying on the couch and fired his gun when the alleged intruder refused to leave.

“He dives down the basement as I put lead in him going down the steps,” said the man, who identified himself to the station as Lurch. “Those shots were good. I don’t like people breaking into my home.”

The teenager was transported to Akron Children’s Hospital in stable condition.

A Charles Manson follower sentenced to life in prison for murder is denied parole.

On March 29, California Governor Gavin Newsom blocked the parole recommendation of infamous Charles Manson follower Leslie Van Houten, Newsweek reported.

This is the fifth time since 2016 that Van Houten has been denied release from prison, where she is serving life behind bars in connection to the role she played in the 1969 stabbing deaths of Rosemary and Leno LaBianca in their Los Angeles home.

Governor Newsom said 72-year-old Van Houten, who was 19 at the time of the slayings, “currently poses an unreasonable danger to society if released from prison at this time.”

The convicted killer’s attorney, Rich Pfeiffer, said he planned to appeal the decision through the courts.

In a 1994 interview with ABC, Van Houten discussed Manson and the LaBiancas’ horrific murders.

“I take responsibility for my part, and part of my responsibility was helping create him...being a follower does not excuse," she said. “The older I get, the harder it is. Mrs. LaBianca was younger than I am now. I took away all that life.”

Texas’ highest court upholds ex-officer Amber Guyger’s murder conviction and sentence in the Botham Jean case.

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals has denied former Dallas cop Amber Guyger’s request to have her murder conviction thrown out and upheld her 10-year sentence, KDFW reported.

In September 2018, Guyger entered the apartment of her upstairs neighbor, 26-year-old Botham Jean, and fatally shot him.

Guyger, 33, claimed the fatal incident was a mistake. After working a long shift, she said she entered the wrong apartment thinking it was her own and that the accountant Jean was a burglar.

She is eligible for parole in 2024.

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