Former Virginia Tech football player Isimemen Etute was acquitted of hitting a man he believed to be a woman

A jury on Friday acquitted a former Virginia Tech football player who was accused of fatally beating a man he said originally believed in a Tinder match to be a woman.

Former player Isimemen Etute, 19, was found not guilty of second-degree murder in the 2021 death of Blacksburg resident Jerry Smith, 40. The jury deliberated for about three hours before returning its verdict around 6:30 p.m., the Roanoke Times reported.

Charged with murdering football players
Isimemen Etute celebrates at Montgomery County Circuit Court on Friday May 27, 2022 in Christiansburg, Virginia.

Matt Gentry/The Roanoke Times via AP, Pool

Immediately after the sentencing, Smith’s family quickly left the courtroom. Montgomery County Assistant Attorney General Patrick Jensen declined to comment, referring questions to his boss, Commonwealth Attorney Mary Pettitt.

The jury began deliberating after closing arguments ended just before 3 p.m

Prosecutors had previously told the jury that upon discovering Smith was a man, Etute, then 18, became enraged and fatally beat Smith. One of the prosecutors said at Friday’s closing arguments that Etute gave the police and jury different versions of events and that the charges may have been enough to change his testimony.

“He has a tremendous burden on this process,” Jensen said during his closing arguments hours earlier Friday, the Roanoke Times reported.

Defense attorney Jimmy Turk told jurors earlier Friday that the Commonwealth’s evidence was circumstantial while the defense’s evidence, which included Etute’s testimony, was direct.

Turk also said Smith “controlled the entire environment and the entire episode.” He added that Smith “demanded it be dark” and hid a knife under his mattress “in case something went wrong.”

Turk also argued that police didn’t ask Etute substantive questions at the home about Smith’s knife or Etute’s fear, two questions whose answers could have revealed whether Etute was afraid for his life and was acting in self-defense.

Speaking earlier in the week, Etute had testified that he felt “hurt” when he discovered the Tinder match he believed was a woman was actually a man.

In his testimony Thursday, Etute testified that Smith had reached for what Etute believed to be a gun. Smith did not own a gun, but police said they found a knife between the man’s mattress and duvet.

Etute said he punched Smith five times and kicked him to buy time and flee the apartment.

Jensen had claimed that Etute had not acted in self-defense. He argued that after Etute punched Smith and Smith fell to the ground, there was “no way” Smith could have reached a gun under his mattress.

“He could never get a gun from there,” Jensen said.

Jensen recalled the testimony of coroner Dr. Amy Tharp, who according to Jensen testified that Smith was the victim of a “brutal caning.”

Jensen said that while Etute was wearing flip flops at the time of the encounter, those shoes were attached to a “tall person” and a “strong person.” He compared Etute, an “elite collegiate athlete,” to Smith, who weighed 153 pounds.

“That’s a big difference,” said Jensen.

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