A former Virginia Tech football player accused of killing a man who gave him oral sex has been set free by a Virginia jury.
The Roanoake Times reports that Isimemen Etute — who claimed he’d been duped into thinking the man he later killed was a woman —was acquitted of second-degree murder after a trial that lasted three days. Jurors were told Etute killed Jerry Paul Smith in self-defense after the two of them became involved in an altercation after the defendant learned of Smith’s gender.
Seasoned defense attorney Jimmy Turk told reporters the not guilty verdict was “one of the proudest moments” of his 36-year career. He also called the dead man’s actions “evil.”
Etute and Smith met on the dating app Tinder where Smith, 40, reportedly presented himself as a 21-year-old emergency room worker named Angie Renee. Etute was 18 years old at the time.
The sexual encounter reportedly occurred on April 10, 2021, in Smith’s apartment. Etute said he became suspicious on May 31 when friends of his, including teammate Jalen Hampton, planted the notion that his Tinder hookup — who reportedly gave him $50 — may have been a man. Hampton, too, had met up with “Angie Renee” at Smith’s apartment, but said he felt uncomfortable and left before anything of note happened.
ABC News reports that Etute and Hampton, along with a third teammate, decided to pay a visit to Smith’s Blackburg, Virginia, home. According to Etute, his teammates waited outside while he entered Smith’s apartment. That’s where, according to the former linebacker, he realized Smith was not a woman and an altercation began.
“I felt violated,” Etute said.
Police found a knife under Smith’s mattress when they searched the suspected crime scene. Prosecutors said Etute mentioned nothing about fearing for his safety when questioned on June 2, 2021. In his testimony, however, he said he feared Smith was reaching for a weapon.
ABC News reports that experts believe the violence between the two men lasted only a few seconds, but left Smith with bleeding on his brain, missing teeth fragments and nearly all of his face bones broken.
If convicted, Etute could have been sentenced to up to 40 years in prison. His family released a statement to the Roanaoke Times Saturday thanking God for the verdict and claiming Etute was “picking up where he left off in his pursuit of a college degree and love for the game of football.”
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