A former Virginia Tech football player was acquitted of murder charges Friday in the deadly beating of a man accused of pretending to be a woman during a sexual encounter after the two matched on Tinder.
A jury in Montgomery County Circuit Court found 19-year-old Isimemen Etute not guilty of a charge of second-degree murder in the 2021 death of Jerry Smith, 40, of Blacksburg. The jury deliberated for approximately three hours before returning its verdict around 6:30 p.m., The Roanoke Times reported.
Prosecutors had earlier told the jury that Etute, then 18, became enraged and fatally beat Smith when he discovered Smith was a man. Smith, who identified as a gay man, presented himself in a profile on the online dating app Tinder as a 21-year-old emergency room physician named Angie Renee.
Smith performed oral sex on Etute, who later returned to the apartment to find out if his date was a man or a woman. In taking the stand earlier in the week, Etute had testified that he felt "violated" when he discovered that the Tinder match he believed to be a woman was actually a man.
Etute had testified that Smith reached for what Etute thought was a gun. Smith did not own a gun, but police reported finding a knife between the man's mattress and box spring.
Defense attorney Jimmy Turk argued that Etute had acted in self-defense, whereas Smith had been "controlling the entire environment and the entire episode," had "demanded that it be dark" and had hidden a knife under his mattress "in case there was something awry."
During closing arguments, Turk described Smith as a "deceitful and dishonest man" who "defrauded young men for his own sexual gratification," according to The Roanoke Times.
"Who is the real victim here?" the attorney said through tears. "This was a wicked sexual ruse."
Etute said he punched Smith five times and kicked him to gain time to escape the apartment.
The prosecuting attorney, Montgomery County Chief Deputy Commonwealth’s Attorney Patrick Jensen, compared Etute, an "elite college athlete," to Smith, who weighed 153 pounds, and recalled the testimony of medical examiner Dr. Amy Tharp, who testified Smith suffered a "brutal beating."
When the not guilty verdict was read aloud, Etute embraced his defense attorney in a bear hug and prompted exited the courtroom with his emotional family members. Smith’s family and prosecutors also left reportedly without taking questions from the media.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.