Former college football player Isimemen Etute was found not guilty on all charges in connection with the killing of Jerry Smith, a gay man who posed as a woman on the dating app Tinder. Etute was found not guilty on second-degree murder charges in Montgomery County Circuit Court on Tuesday 31 May 2022.
As reported by The Independent, the court was told that Smith falsely posed on the dating app as 21-year-old emergency room doctor ‘Angie Renee’ in an attempt to meet straight men who are in college. Etute, who used to play American football at Virginia Tech, matched with Smith on the app and went to what he thought was Angie’s flat in April 2021, where the court was told he received oral sex.
In fact, two other Virginia Tech players also admitted to matching with ‘Angie’ but both noted that they left the apartment after feeling uncomfortable. In Etute’s case, the jury was told that a month after his first visit, the 19-year-old returned to the flat to find out if ‘Angie’ had lied to him about their gender.
In court, Etute testified that when he confronted Smith, he saw him reach for a weapon under the bed, causing the football player to kick and punch him. Investigators did find a knife under the mattress at the apartment.
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. The 40-year-old man had every bone in his face broken and was missing several teeth. 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.
Smith’s body was found two days after the incident took place. Etute was arrested in June 2021 and charged with second-degree murder after local police connected him to the incident.
Two other teammates who went with the young man to the apartment—but stayed outside—were not charged with any crimes. If convicted, Etute would have faced between five and 40 years behind bars. However, the jury believed his self-defence argument.
Etute also testified that he believed Smith was reaching for a gun, although he didn’t mention this fact when initially questioned by police in 2021. Meanwhile, 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.
As initially reported by PinkNews, the former football player told the court, “I felt violated. I was just in shock, in disbelief that someone tricked me and lied to me.”
It should be noted that on 1 July 2021, the state of Virginia passed a law restricting the use of a ‘gay panic’ defence, in which a murder defendant could get a lesser sentence by arguing they panicked when they found out the victim’s sexual orientation or gender identity. Though many expected such a change to play a part in Etute’s case, the judge ruled that the legislation, passed after Smith’s death, could not be used in the trial.