CHRISTIANSBURG, Va. (AP) — A jury on Friday acquitted a former Virginia Tech football player who was accused of fatally beating a man he first believed from a Tinder match to be a woman.
Former player Isimemen Etute, 19, was found not guilty of a second-degree murder charge in the 2021 death of Jerry Smith, 40, of Blacksburg. The jury deliberated for about three hours before delivering its verdict around 6:30 p.m., the Roanoke Times reported.
Immediately after the verdict was announced, Smith’s family quickly left the courtroom. The prosecutor, Montgomery County Deputy Chief Commonwealth Solicitor Patrick Jensen, declined to comment and referred questions to his boss, Commonwealth Solicitor Mary Pettitt.
The jury began deliberations after closing arguments shortly before 3 p.m.
Prosecutors previously told the jury that Etute, then 18, became enraged and fatally beat Smith when he found out Smith was male. One of the prosecutors said during closing arguments on Friday that Eute gave different versions of events to the police and the jury, and that the prosecution may have been enough for him to alter his testimony.
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“He has a lot to do with this trial,” Jensen said during his closing argument a few hours earlier on Friday. Roanoke time reported.
Defense attorney Jimmy Turk told jurors earlier Friday that the Commonwealth’s evidence was circumstantial, while the defense evidence, which included Etute’s testimony, was direct.
Turk also said that Smith “controlled the whole environment and the whole episode”. He added that Smith had “demanded it be dark” and hid a knife under his mattress “in case something went wrong”.
Turk also argued that the police did not ask Etute essential questions about Smith’s knife or Etute’s fear in the apartment, two questions whose answers could have shown whether Etute was afraid for his life. and acted in self-defense.
Speaking earlier in the week, Etute testified that he felt “violated” when he found out the Tinder match he thought was a woman was actually a man.
In his testimony Thursday, Etute said Smith took what Eute thought was a gun. Smith did not possess a firearm, but police said they found a knife between the man’s mattress and box spring.
Etute said he punched Smith five times and kicked him to buy him time to escape the flat.
Jensen had argued that Etute had not acted in self-defense. He argued that after Eute punched Smith and Smith fell to the ground, there was “no way” Smith could have reached a gun 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 that Smith had suffered a “brutal blow”.
Jensen said that although 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 (just under 70 kilograms).
“It’s a big disparity,” Jensen said.
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