Ex-football player who admitted beating gay man to death found not guilty of murder

Isimemen Etute

Former Virginia Tech football player Isimemen Etute, who admitted to beating a gay man to death after he posed as a woman on Tinder, has been found not guilty of murder.

Etute, who was 18 at the time, first connected with 40-year-old Jerry Paul Smith on Tinder, where Smith said he was a 21-year-old emergency room doctor named Angie Renee.

Although some have referred to Smith as a trans woman, family members identified him as a gay man.

At a three-day trial which began on Wednesday (25 May) at Montgomery County Circuit Court in Christiansburg, Virginia, a jury heard how Etute and Smith met up on 10 April 2021, and Smith performed oral sex on the football player.

However, Etute returned to Smith’s apartment in May because Etute wanted to determine whether Smith was a man or a woman.

Once there, his friends waited outside while Etute entered the apartment, and the confrontation turned physical, resulting in Smith’s death. Etute was later charged with second-degree murder.

According to The Roanoke Times, state medical examiner Dr Amy Tharp and forensic detective Mike Czernicki gave expert testimony at the trial, detailing Smith’s injuries discovered via autopsy, and the jury was showed photos of his body at the crime scene.

The experts told the court that almost every bone in Smith’s face was broken, multiple teeth had been knocked out, there was bleeding and swelling in his brain, and frothy liquid was coming out of his mouth from inhaling his own blood. The impression of a shoe was also discovered on his face.

The defence argued that Isimemen Etute was the ‘real victim’

While the prosecution said that the “brutal beating” easily met the level of malice required for a second-degree murder conviction, Isimemen Etute’s lawyer insisted that he was acting in self-defence, as Smith had reached towards his bed, where a knife was later found.

Etute testified that he believed Smith was reaching for a gun, although he did not mention this fact when initially questioned by police last year.

The defence painted Smith as an “evil man” who was guilty of a “wicked sexual ruse”, and insisted that Etute was the “real victim”, adding that Smith’s actions would have amounted to sexual battery under Virginia law.

Etute told the court: “I felt violated. I was just in shock, in disbelief that someone tricked me and lied to me.”

After three hours of deliberation, a jury found him not guilty, and he was able to walk free.

On 1 July 2021, a month after Smith’s death, the state of Virginia passed a bill banning the gay and trans panic defence, a defence in murder cases based on the “panic” a defendant felt upon finding out that a victim was LGBTQ+.

However the judge ruled that because the bill was passed after the crime took place, it could not be applied to Etute’s case.

Etute’s lawyers insisted that whether or not the ban was applied would not have altered the outcome of the case.

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