Isimemen Etute, 19, a former Virginia Tech football player was on Friday, May 27, found not guilty of a charge of second-degree murder in the 2021 death of Jerry Smith, 40, of Blacksburg, Virginia.
Etute visited the victim last year to engage in oral sex with a woman he believed to be named ‘Angie,’ but who was actually Smith. He told police Smith was hiding his face during the intercourse and he paid him $50 at the end, Mail Online reported.
The athlete also said he stopped messaging Smith after the interaction because he wasn’t sure ‘Angie’ was telling the truth about their identity.
But a month later, Smith reached out to him again and invited him over, telling him to bring some friends.
He then went back to Smith’s downtown Blacksburg apartment to find out whether Smith was a male or a female, police said. He used his phone’s flashlight in the darkened apartment to get a better look at Smith.
Prosecutors told the jury earlier that Etute, then 18, became enraged and fatally beat Smith when he discovered ‘Angie’ was actually a man. The linebacker reportedly groped Smith before allegedly beating him to death in what Etute claimed was self-defense.
In his testimony on Thursday, May 25, Etute testified that Smith reached for what he thought was a gun. Smith did not own a gun, but police reported finding a knife between the man’s mattress and box spring.
Etute said he punched Smith five times and kicked him to gain time to escape the apartment.
As the football player was leaving, prosecutors say, Etute heard ‘bubbling and gurgling’ coming from Smith but did not call the police.
Prosecutor Patrick Jensen had maintained that Etute had not acted in self-defense. He argued that after Etute punched Smith and Smith fell to the floor, there was ‘no way’ Smith could have reached a weapon under his mattress.
‘He could never reach a gun from there,’ Jensen said.
Jensen recalled the testimony of medical examiner Dr. Amy Tharp, who Jensen said testified Smith had been the victim of a ‘brutal beating.’
Jensen said that while Etute was wearing flip-flops at the time of the encounter, those shoes were attached to a ‘big person’ and a ‘strong person.’ He compared Etute, an ‘elite college athlete,’ to Smith, who weighed 153 pounds.
‘That’s a big disparity,’ Jensen said.
The former Virginia tech player also testified that he felt ‘violated’ after Smith lied to him.
One of the prosecutors said at closing arguments Friday that Etute gave different versions of events to police and the jury, and that the charge may have been enough for him to change his testimony.
‘He has a tremendous amount riding on this trial,’ Jensen had said during his closing argument hours earlier Friday, The Roanoke Times reported.
Defense attorney Jimmy Turk also told the jurors earlier on Friday, May 27, that the commonwealth’s evidence was circumstantial, while the defense’s evidence, which included the testimony of Etute, was direct.
Turk also said Smith was ‘controlling the entire environment and the entire episode.’ He added that Smith had ‘demanded that it be dark’ and had hidden a knife under his mattress ‘in case there was something awry.’
Turk also argued that police didn’t ask Etute essential questions about Smith’s knife or Etute’s fear while in the apartment, two questions whose answers could have shown whether Etute was afraid for his life and acting in self-defense.
The jury deliberated for approximately three hours before returning its not guilty verdict around 6.30pm, The Roanoke Times reported.