A former Virginia Tech football player accused of killing a man he'd had a sexual encounter with, believing he was a woman, has been acquitted of murder.
Isimemen Etute, 19, was found not guilty of second degree murder by a Montgomery County jury on Friday for the beating death of Jerry Smith, 40, according to the Roanoke Times. The verdict came after a three-day trial and just over three hours of jury deliberations.
“I’m certainly appreciative that the verdict turned out the way that it did,” defense attorney Jimmy Turk told Oxygen.com. “I think it was the correct decision based on the evidence that was presented to the jury. Obviously, the jury did as well.”
The verdict elicited a mix of reactions from those in the courtroom’s gallery, including Etute's father, who collapsed near his sobbing wife. According to CBS News, Smith’s family promptly exited the room.
Turk said his client went home with his family and friends following the verdict, where they’re “decompressing from the trial.”
“He’s certainly been through a lot, having been on trial for an allegation of second-degree murder,” said Turk. “He’s obviously relieved as well.”
In April 2021, Etute matched with who he believed was a woman named "Angie" (whose legal name was Jerry Smith) on the dating app Tinder. Etute said he went to “Angie’s” Blacksburg, Virginia apartment, where the pair engaged in oral sex for which his partner also paid Etute $50.
Upon the prodding of friends who suspected “Angie” was a man, Etute returned to the apartment on May 31, 2021. Once inside, Etute followed "Angie" to the bedroom and initiated another sexual encounter, before grabbing at the victim’s privates and removing their sweatshirt hood, which is when he found that his sexual partner had men’s facial hair.
“I felt violated,” Etute testified. “I was just shocked and in disbelief that someone had tricked me and lied to me.”
Etute claimed that, after he asked why, Smith reached for his crotch with one hand and down the side of the bed with the other. Etute said, at that point, he feared Smith was going for a weapon, a notion Etute failed to mention in his initial 2021 interview with police, according to the Times.
Etute confessed to then punching and kicking Smith, breaking every bone in the victim’s face, knocking out teeth and causing cranial fractures. Two of the defendant's friends waited in the hallway of the apartment complex during the violent attack and the three left together.
Etute failed to notify authorities that he'd left Smith injured, “bubbling and gurgling,” in the apartment. Smith eventually died from blunt force injuries to the head.
The defendant pleaded not guilty to charges of second-degree murder, claiming he acted in self-defense.
In Friday’s closing arguments, prosecuting attorney Patrick Jensen condemned Etute’s claims of self-defense, according to the Times.
“If you find this was in the heat of passion, you shouldn’t find him guilty of second-degree murder; the crime would be voluntary manslaughter," said Jensen. “But what I'm telling you is this was not self-defense.”
Last week, Etute’s attorney had filed a motion to use a gay and trans panic defense, a legal strategy that aims to get defendants more lenient sentences by claiming their violent actions were an uncontrollable response to learning a victim’s sexual orientation or gender identity.
Judge Mike Fleenor, however, officially excluded the defense, which was banned in Virginia after Smith died. According to the Roanoke Times, Fleenor stated it “would have been applicable, but this [ruling] is purely procedural.”
“Quite frankly, I don’t think it was applicable anyway, under the facts of the case,” Turk told Oxygen.com.
Etute had been a rookie linebacker for the Virginia Tech’s Hokies football when he was arrested for Smith’s murder, resulting in his suspension from the team.
”He’s focusing now, I think, on trying to get his life back together,” Turk continued. “And trying to see what he can do to get re-enrolled in a university and hopefully being able to pursue his college football, which he loves so much.”