Former Virginia Tech football player Isimemen Etute was acquitted on Friday on charges of beating an openly gay man Jerry Paul Smith to death, who he claimed had posed as a woman on Tinder.

A jury found Etute not guilty of the charges of second-degree murder, reported The Roanoke Times.

Trigger Warning: This story discusses a murder, which might be distressing to some readers. For 24-hour crisis support and suicide prevention call Lifeline on 13 11 14. For Australia-wide LGBTQI peer support call QLife on 1800 184 527 or webchat.

Etute, then 18, had received oral sex from Smith (40), when he visited his apartment on April 10, 2021, after matching on Tinder. Smith had given Etute $50 after the encounter. Etute claimed that Smith was pretending to be a 21-year-old woman and had concealed the fact that he was a man. 

A month later on May 31, 2021, Etute visited Smith’s apartment with two of his fellow players to verify if he was a woman. Etute claimed he beat Smith to death after groping him and finding out he was not a woman. His friends waited outside during the incident. The police found Smith’s body on June 1, after a welfare check. 

Judge Disallows Mention Of ‘Gay Panic Defence’

Montgomery County Circuit Court Judge Mike Fleenor had allowed the defence’s motion to exclude the instruction to the jury on the ‘gay panic defence’.

Gay/ Trans Panic is legal strategy where a jury is asked to find that a victim’s sexual orientation or gender identity is to blame for an accused’s violent reaction. The defence tries to argue for a lesser sentence or acquittal by blaming the victim’s non-violent sexual advance for provoking the accused to respond with violence. 

Virginia had in April 2021 banned the use of gay/trans panic defence, which meant that an accused could not claim they panicked after finding out the victim was gay or trans. The judge ruled that the law came into effect on July 1, 2021, and could not apply retroactively in Smith’s killing. 

Defence Paints Victim As An ‘Evil’ Man

Etute’s lawyers portrayed the former footballer as a “goofy, gullible kid” and the “real victim”. Smith was painted by the defence as “evil” and a ‘deceitful and dishonest man” who had “defrauded young men for his own sexual gratification.”

Etute, who admitted to beating Smith to death, claimed it was “self-defence”. During the trial, Etute said Smith was reaching for something under the bed, which he thought was a gun. The prosecution had found a knife under the mattress. 

Etute told the court that he “felt violated” was ‘just in shock, in disbelief that someone tricked me and lied to me.”

The prosecution had said that it was anything “but self-defence” and pointed out that Smith had been brutally and viciously beaten to death by Smith. 


If you feel distressed reading the story, you can reach out to support services.

For 24-hour crisis support and suicide prevention call Lifeline on 13 11 14

For Australia-wide LGBTQI peer support call QLife on 1800 184 527 or webchat.

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