Isimemen Etute, a former Virginia Tech football player accused of fatally beating a man who he claims he thought was a woman from Tinder, has been found not guilty of a charge of second-degree murder.
After three hours of jury deliberations Friday, the 19-year-old was acquitted around 6:30 p.m. on charges related to the death of 40-year-old Jerry Smith in 2021, per CBS. Etute’s family released a statement after the verdict, sharing that they “are relieved and thankful that God has helped guide us through this extremely hard and punishing journey.”
“It will take time to decompress and feel relief from this gut-wrenching, frightening experience in life,” they shared with WDBJ. “It has made us stronger and strengthened our faith. We will continue to include the Smith family in our prayers. Isi is extremely grateful for the jury’s hard work, deliberation, and verdict. Isi is now focused on picking up where he left off in his pursuit of a college degree and love for the game of football.”
Back in June of 2021, Etute’s attorney Jimmy Turk said in court that his client met with Smith in April of that year for oral sex, believing him to be a woman named Angie”whom he met on Tinder. Etute allegedly didn’t realize Smith was a man until they met on May 31, when he punched Smith five times in the head. Smith’s body was discovered in his apartment on June 1, when a medical examiner ruled his death to be the result of blunt force to the head, given his fractured skull and missing teeth. Etute was suspended from the football team following the charge.
In the trial, Turk claimed that Smith was “controlling the entire environment and the entire episode” and “demanded that it be dark” as he reportedly hid a knife under his mattress “in case there was something awry.” Turk added that police did not question his client about the knife or his fear in the apartment.
Etute himself had testified that he felt “violated” when he found out he was catfished, and that Smith reached for what he believed to be a gun. Police did find the knife under his mattress, but no firearm. Montgomery County Chief Deputy Commonwealth’s Attorney Patrick Jensen argued that the football player’s response was not in self-defense, citing testimony of medical examiner Dr. Amy Tharp that Smith was a victim of a “brutal beating,” per CBS. He called Etute an “elite college athlete,” and compared him to the size of the 153-pound Smith, saying “that’s a big disparity.”
“Isi says this process gives him trust and faith again in life,” Etute’s family said in their statement. “He further says it has only helped him become much smarter, wiser, and stronger, with a new outlook on life in his journey moving forward.”