Jury deliberating in former soccer player’s murder trial

A jury began Friday afternoon deliberations in the murder trial of a former college football player accused of fatally beating a man he says originally believed from a Tinder match to be a woman.

Former Virginia Tech soccer player Isimemen Etute, 19, is charged with second-degree murder in the 2021 death of Jerry Smith, 40, of Blacksburg.

Prosecutors have told the jury that upon discovering Smith was a man, Etute, then 18, became enraged and fatally beat Smith. One of the prosecutors said at Friday’s closing arguments that Etute gave the police and jury different versions of events and that the charges he was facing may have been enough to change his testimony.

“He has a tremendous impact on this process,” Chief Deputy Commonwealth Chief of Montgomery County Patrick Jensen said during his closing arguments, The Roanoke Times reported.

Defense attorney Jimmy Turk told jurors Friday that the Commonwealth’s evidence was circumstantial while the defense’s evidence, which included Etute’s testimony, was direct.

Speaking earlier in the week, Etute had testified that he felt “hurt” when he found out the Tinder match he thought was a woman was actually a man.

The jury began deliberating after closing arguments ended just before 3 p.m

Jensen recalled the testimony of coroner Dr. Amy Tharp, who, according to Jensen, testified that Smith was the victim of a “brutal caning.”

Jensen said that while Etute was wearing flip flops at the time of the encounter, those shoes were attached to a “tall person” and a “strong person.” He compared Etute, an “elite collegiate athlete,” to Smith, who weighed 153 pounds.

“That’s a big difference,” said Jensen.

Turk said Smith “controlled the entire environment and the entire episode.” He said Smith “demanded it be dark” and hid a knife under his mattress “in case anything went wrong.”

Turk also argued that police didn’t ask Etute at the apartment substantive questions about Smith’s knife or Etute’s fear, two questions whose answers could have revealed whether Etute was afraid for his life and was defending himself.

Etute testified Thursday that Smith had reached for what Etute believed to be a gun. Smith did not own a gun, but police found the knife between his mattress and the box spring.

Etute said he punched Smith five times and kicked him to buy time to escape the apartment.

Jensen claimed Etute did not act in self-defense. He argued that after Etute punched Smith and Smith fell to the ground, there was “no way” Smith could have reached a gun under his mattress.

“He could never get a gun from there,” Jensen said.

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