Judge denies defense motion ahead of ex-Virginia Tech football player’s murder trial

CHRISTIANSBURG, Va. (WFXR) — A final hearing on the motions was held Monday afternoon for Isimemen Etute — the former Virginia Tech football player charged in connection with the death of a Blacksburg man last year — before jury selection begins for Etute’s murder trial later this week.

Police arrested Etute after finding the body of Jerry Paul Smith, 40, on June 1, 2021 during a welfare check. An autopsy revealed that Smith had died from blunt force injuries to the head.

Virginia Tech previously reported that Eute had been provisionally suspended effective June 2, 2021, which affected his standing on the Hokies football team.

Investigators say Etute said he and Smith had sex at Smith’s apartment after meeting on Tinder on April 10, 2021, after which Smith gave Etute $50. However, Smith allegedly posed as a woman named “Angie” both on the dating app and when they met.

Court records indicate that Eute returned to Smith’s apartment on May 31, 2021 to determine if “Angie” was female, bringing two other Hokie players with him because he was uncomfortable.

The prosecution accused Etute of becoming enraged after finding out that “Angie” was a man, punching Smith multiple times in the face and stomping on Smith with enough force to break every bone in his face.

Then, on October 26, 2021, a Montgomery County Circuit Court grand jury returned a true bill indicting Etute on a charge of second-degree murder.

At Etute’s arraignment hearing on Thursday, May 19 – in which Etute pleaded not guilty to a charge of second-degree murder – the defense made two new motions.

The first motion asked the judge to allow potential witnesses to remain anonymous, saying that identifying the witnesses could pose a risk of physical retaliation or mental harm against them.

As for the second motion, it involved excluding any consideration of a law called the “Gay Panic Defence”, which was passed by the General Assembly in 2021. This law prohibits the use of gender identity or a person’s perceived or actual sexual orientation as a defense in court for the assault or murder of an LGBTQ person.

Monday, May 23, the Montgomery County judge did not hesitate to reject the request for anonymous witnesses.

The defense argued that it wanted to call witnesses who allegedly had similar encounters with Smith or “Angie Renee.”

The defense went on to say that these witnesses would not testify publicly for the following three reasons:

  1. They deal with sensitive and very personal subjects
  2. They are alleged victims of Smith
  3. Defense says it would be harmful not to acknowledge other alleged victims

In response, the prosecution said there had never been anonymous testimony for a criminal trial in Virginia, adding that anonymous witnesses would not allow for a fair and impartial trial, especially since Smith would not be able to defend themselves.

In the end, the judge said he understood the sensitivity of the witnesses, but decided that the public and the press deserved the right to hear a fair and open trial.

As for the request concerning the “defence against homosexual panic”, this decision was suspended.

Eute’s jury trial is scheduled to begin at 9 a.m. Wednesday, May 25, at Montgomery Circuit Court in Christiansburg.

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