Former Virginia Tech football recruit Isimemen Etute was acquitted of second-degree murder last week in Christiansburg, but certainly don’t expect him to be back with the Hokies.
“I think he’s earned the right to go back to school and further his academic and sports career,” his attorney, James Turk, said after the verdict. “I think the school that ends up taking him is going to get probably a lot wiser and a much smarter and an exceptional athlete.”
It’s going to be problematic for whichever school might end up taking on Etute, 19, a linebacker, who was an early enrollee at Virginia Tech in the spring semester of 2021 when he connected with Jerry Smith, an openly gay man who presented himself as a 21-year-old ER physician named Angie Renee on Tinder.
Smith, according to testimony at the trial, performed oral sex on Etute, and Etute and two of his former teammates later visited Smith’s apartment to determine if he was a man or woman.
That May 31 encounter ended with Smith dead, with Turk arguing at trial that Etute acted in self-defense after Smith swung at him and reached under his mattress for something.
Police searching the apartment later found a knife hidden between the mattress and box spring in the spot where Etute alleged the attack took place.
Etute testified in court that he thought Smith was reaching for a gun, but didn’t mention that when he was first questioned by police.
That’s where things are going to be problematic for his future as a college football player.
Fair or not, the perception is going to be that while he was acquitted, he’s not necessarily not culpable in the death of Smith.
It’s going to feel like the acquittal is more about the gay-panic defense that Etute was able to have in his favor than a knife that was found later and the thought that Smith was reaching for something that Etute didn’t bring up until trial.
Wherever Etute might end up from here, reporters are going to ask questions, and there are going to be students and alums and community members who are going to want to know why their school has a guy with this big a cloud over him playing football.
Etute may very well be, in his attorney’s words, “probably a lot wiser and a much smarter and an exceptional athlete,” but he might not get that chance.
One thing we know for sure here: Jerry Smith doesn’t get another chance.
Story by Chris Graham