CHRISTIANSBURG, Va. (WFXR) — On Thursday afternoon, Isimemen Etute, a former member of the Virginia Tech football team, pleaded not guilty to a charge of second-degree murder in the death of a Blacksburg man last year.
Police arrested Etute after finding the body of 40-year-old Jerry Paul Smith on June 1, 2021 during a welfare check.
An autopsy revealed Smith died from blunt force injuries to the head.
Virginia Tech previously reported that Etute was placed on interim suspension as of June 2, 2021, which affected his standing with the Hokies football team.
According to investigators, Etute said he and Smith had a sexual encounter in Smith’s apartment after meeting on Tinder on April 10, 2021, after which Smith gave Etute $50. However, Smith was reportedly posing as a woman named “Angie” both on the dating app and during their encounter.
Court records say Etute went back to Smith’s apartment on May 31, 2021 to determine if “Angie” was a woman, bringing two other Hokie players with him because he was not comfortable.
The prosecution previously accused Etute of becoming enraged after finding out “Angie” was a man, punching Smith several times in the face, and stomping on Smith with enough force to break every bone in his face.
Then, on Oct. 26, 2021, a grand jury at the Montgomery County Circuit Court returned a true bill indicting Etute for a charge of second-degree murder.
During a pre-trial motions hearing on May 5, defense attorneys made several arguments on Etute’s behalf. For example, they claimed Smith had a knife within reach at the time of the attack, saying the “reach” would be very important in the upcoming jury trial to show that Smith’s acts were designed.
Meanwhile, the Commonwealth’s Attorney requested that Smith’s prior criminal history or character be excluded from the jury trial. However, the defense disagreed, saying that information may show motive and claiming that Smith had a pattern of deceiving men in an effort to obtain sex.
The judge did not make a decision on any motion that day, saying he would take it under advisement until Etute was arraigned on Thursday, May 19.
During Thursday’s arraignment, Etute entered a plea of not guilty to a second-degree murder charge.
In addition, the defense introduced two new motions they say need to be ironed out before the trial starts next week.
The first motion involves excluding consideration of a law banning the “gay panic defense” which was passed by the General Assembly in 2021. This law prohibits the use of a person’s perceived or actual gender identity or sexual orientation as a defense in court for the assault or murder of an LGBTQ person.
Etute’s defense attorney, Jimmy Turk, says the new law should have no bearing in this case.
In the second motion filed Thursday, the defense asked the judge to allow a witness to remain anonymous.
Turk tells WFXR News that a witness who may come forward on Etute’s behalf has been in a situation like the one between Etute and Smith. The defense says identification could pose a risk of physical retaliation or mental harm to that witness.
The prosecution and the defense will both meet on Monday, May 23 to discuss the motions before the jury trial begins at 9 a.m. on Wednesday, May 25 at the Montgomery Circuit Court.