The trial of former Virginia Tech football player Isimemen David Etute begins Wednesday in Montgomery County Circuit Court. Etute is charged with second-degree murder in the killing of Jerry Paul Smith. The Roanoke Times will provide updates throughout the day.
The case was adjourned for today pending testimony from Blacksburg Police Detective Ryan Hite. Hite provided a detailed statement of Etute’s confession, which came on June 1 in a Blacksburg Police Department interview room.
Etute volunteered when officers arrived at his home that morning and asked him to clarify questions about an incident in downtown Blacksburg.
Hite described Etute as “cooperative, respectful and honest” as he told officers what happened between him and Smith on May 31, as well as the events that preceded it.
The break came as prosecutors attempted to play a 45-minute portion of the interrogation to the jury.
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After the prosecution and defense presented their opening statements, three prosecution witnesses testified. Prosecutors called John Wayne Smith, the victim’s brother, Blacksburg Police Officer CJ Linkous and Assistant Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Amy Tharpe at.
John Wayne Smith led prosecutors through the June 1 discovery of his brother’s body.
After Jerry Paul Smith didn’t answer the phone all day, John returned home from a work trip in North Carolina to check on his brother. He discovered the door to his brother’s apartment wide open and found his brother’s body lying on the floor by his bed.
“I straightened my foot and it was stiff,” said John Wayne Smith.
John Wayne Smith, who was accompanied by his 13-year-old son, left the home to call 911. He ended up stopping a patrolling officer while on the phone with emergency services.
Turk’s cross-examination of John Wayne Smith mainly dealt with the condition of his brother’s apartment and whether or not he knew anything about his brother’s online presence as Angie Renee. Turk was surprised when John Wayne Smith testified that he didn’t know anything about his brother posing as a woman online.
“I didn’t agree to being gay,” said John Wayne Smith.
Etute defense attorney Jimmy Turk caught the jury’s attention at the start of his lengthy opening speech on Wednesday.
“There’s a lot of people that are going to explain to you what happened on May 31, but there’s one thing that changes this case and it’s a five-to-six-to-seven-second time span that’s how you’re going to decide that case ‘, called Turk. “It’s about the reach.”
He made a point of telling the jury early in his speech that Etute intended to testify as well.
Turk went on to describe Etute as a then 18-year-old victim who was “lured” into a sexual encounter last year by a man who was targeting young black men for his own sexual gratification.
According to Turk, Smith stole the photos he used for his Tinder profile from a real life ER doctor named Angie Renee, who was also a Virginia Tech graduate.
“[Smith]was a sexual predator and Isi was one of his victims,” Turk said.
Turk admitted that Etute went to Smith’s apartment on May 31 to find out if “Angie” was a man or a woman, but Etute told his friends before the encounter that if it was a man, he would “leak”. .
According to Turk, the incident turned violent when Smith leaped forward and “violently grabbed Etu’s crotch” with one hand and grabbed the side of the bed with the other hand.
“Isi thought he was going to grab a gun,” Turk said. “He grew up in an area (Norfolk) where he believed people kept guns under their mattresses for protection. He thought Smith was going to grab his crotch to distract himself. He feared for his own life and thought he would not make it out of this apartment alive.”
While Smith did not own a gun, police found a knife hidden between Smith’s mattress and box spring.
Turk said the gun’s concealed position showed Smith was “ready for something” if spotted, and told the jury they would eventually come to see Etute had a reasonable reaction given the circumstances.
Deputy Commonwealth Counsel Jason Morgan laid out the murder of Jerry Paul Smith in no uncertain terms in his opening statement.
“There’s not much to unpack in this case,” Morgan said.
According to prosecutors, on April 10, Etute met with what he believed to be a 28-year-old woman named Angie Renee on Tinder and received oral sex. Etute initiated a second encounter in late May because he still had doubts as to whether Angie was actually a man or a woman.
Morgan described that Etute’s suspicions were the “sticking point” of the case.
Etute had a plan to identify Smith by leaving his cell phone flashlight in his pocket on May 31 when he returned to Smith’s apartment. Etute lashed out after finding out Smith was a man.
“Every bone in Jerry’s face was broken,” Morgan said.
The jury is set and the lawyers will present their opening statements after a lunch break. The jury consists of nine women and four men.
Earlier in the morning, prosecutors and defense released their witness lists. Judge Mike Fleenor opened jury selection with a list of 23 prepared questions, including asking the panel whether they are affiliated with any parties in the case.
Fleenor had Assistant Commonwealth Attorney Jason Morgan and Defense Attorney Jimmy Turk read their witness lists to the prospective jury panel.
Turk’s roster included former Virginia Tech running backs Jalen Hampton and Jordan Brunson, and current Hokies defensive back Jalen Stroman.
Hampton and Brunson entered the transfer portal after spring camp — they have since made verbal commitments to other schools — while Stroman was named special teams MVP at spring camp.
Virginia Tech declined to comment on the players’ statements. The school is not legally entitled to provide legal assistance to students.
Etute defense attorney Jimmy Turk questioned would-be jurors on various topics related to the case, including their knowledge of Tinder, catfishing and whether they had any prejudices regarding the LGBTQ community.
Prosecutors have claimed Etute met victim Jerry Paul Smith through Tinder, with Smith presenting himself on social media as a woman named Angie.
Turk also provided insight into the defense’s case during jury selection when he briefly asked the jurors if they could see the crime scene photos Morgan mentioned earlier in the day. He said Etute “acted everything in self-defense and was justified”.
The selection of the jury in the Etute process is not yet complete.
Deputy Commonwealth Attorney Jason Morgan questioned the jury for the indictment.
He asked potential jurors if they would have trouble seeing graphic images during the trial. He also asked potential jurors if they could hear evidence that was “sexual in nature.”
“They’re going to be hard to see,” Morgan said of the photographic evidence.
Much of Morgan’s time was spent asking follow-up questions to jurors who had ties to Virginia Tech or the football program.
Etute defense attorney Jimmy Turk focused on how much each would-be juror had heard about the case to date and how much media coverage they had consumed.
“You cannot let anything that is not evidence from this court influence your decision,” Turk said.
There were a few would-be jurors who admitted that they might not be able to judge the facts without being swayed by what they had heard about the case.
Etute, in a navy blue suit, sat between Turk and his daughter Katie, a member of the defense team.
The day is scheduled to begin at 9:00 am with jury selection before Judge Mike Fleenor.
Etute, represented by Radford-based defense attorney Jimmy Turk, pleaded not guilty to his arraignment last week. The indictment was held before the trial to prevent dozens of potential jurors from appearing in court if the accused pleaded guilty.
On Monday there was a brief hearing in the case in which Fleenor ruled against a defense motion that required the anonymity of potential witnesses.
Fleenor has yet to rule on a handful of other pretrial motions, including one filed by the defense that would allow the jury to consider the “gay panic” defense. The Virginia General Assembly passed legislation stating that another person’s actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity cannot be used as a justification for murder or first-degree manslaughter.
In short, the defense argued that the law should not apply in Etute’s case because the law only came into effect on July 1 of last year, more than a month after Smith’s death.
The defense has also filed a motion to bar crime and autopsy photos of Jerry Paul Smith, while Montgomery County Assistant Attorney Patrick Jensen filed a motion to prevent the defense from using the victim’s prior acts of violence or turmoil as character evidence in the case to mention.
Fleenor heard arguments about the motions at a pre-trial hearing on May 5.
For the Roanoke Times’ comprehensive coverage of the case, click here.