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Ex-College Athlete Accused Of Murder Pleads Not Guilty, Judge To Rule On 'Gay Panic Defense' Motion

Prosecutors say Isimemen Etute beat Jerry Smith to death after the victim allegedly posed as a woman during a sexual encounter. 

Isimemen Etute AP

Several motions were filed ahead of the murder trial for a former college athlete accused of killing a man who allegedly posed as a woman during a sexual encounter with him.

Isimemen Etute,  21, entered a plea of not guilty at Thursday’s arraignment for the 2021 murder of Jerry Smith, 40, according to NBC Roanoke affiliate WSLS. Prosecutors say the suspended Virginia Tech football linebacker beat Smith with his bare hands – breaking every bone in Smith’s face – after learning the victim, who he'd met on Tinder, was actually a male and not a female as he'd originally thought.

Ahead of the murder trial, slated to begin on Wednesday, defense lawyer Jimmy Turk filed three motions for his client, who is charged with second-degree murder.

The first of these seeks to hide the identity of a witness, who was 19 years old at the time of Smith’s beating death, for fears of retaliation. A second motion requested that jurors be barred from viewing photos of Smith after his death, including photographs from the crime scene and the postmortem examination.

The final motion addressed the recently implemented ban of the “Gay/Trans Panic Defense,” which once secured more lenient penalties for defendants claiming to panic when learning about their victim’s gender or sexual identity. According to NBC News, the bill was passed in April, making Virginia the 12th state (the first in the southern United States) to effectuate the ban.

The defense is arguing that the ban shouldn’t be a factor in the trial since the crimes occurred before the bill was signed, according to The Roanoke Times.

On April 10, 2021, prosecutors say Etute responded to a Tinder dating app profile and agreed to meet a woman named “Angie” for oral sex, CBS Roanoke WDBJ reported.

At that time, Etute allegedly hadn’t realized that the woman from the dating app was actually Jerry Smith until he was questioned by his friends.

Etude allegedly returned to Smith’s Blacksburg apartment on May 31, 2021, to determine whether or not Smith was biologically male or female, resulting in Etute groping Smith’s genitals, learning he was biologically male.

Smith was found dead at his home the following day.

A postmortem examination showed he died of blunt force trauma to the head. The Roanoke Times reported Smith was missing his teeth, and every bone in the victim’s face had been broken.

Etute allegedly admitted to authorities that he punched Smith five times and “stomped” on the victim before hearing “bubbling and gurgling” coming from Smith. Etute then left the man’s apartment and failed to notify the authorities.

Two of Etute’s Virginia Tech teammates waited outside.

Attorneys are still waiting for the judge to rule on a previous motion that will determine whether or the defense will be allowed to use Smith’s history at trial, which allegedly includes Smith posing as a woman online for sex, according to the Times.

“Nobody deserves to die, but I don’t mind saying, don’t pretend you are something that you are not,” Turk told the Richmond Times-Dispatch in March. “Don’t target or lure anyone under that perception. It’s just wrong.”

The very argument over a victim’s sexual history was a determining factor when the ban on the “Gay/Trans Panic Defense” was approved by the Virginia Senate earlier this year, according to local outlets.

“We’re watching the victim being put on trial,” said Democratic State Senator Jennifer Boysko. “This reminds me very much of the rape shield act, where a woman was asked what her sexual history was as part of the defense argument. That’s illegal to do [now]. We no longer allow someone to turn the table on a rape victim.”

Montgomery County Circuit Court Judge Mike Fleenor has yet to rule on the motions ahead of Etute’s murder trial.

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