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

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

Virginia Tech previously reported that Etute was placed on interim suspension as of June 2, 2021, which affected his standing with the Hokies football team.

According to investigators, Etute said he and Smith had a sexual encounter in Smith’s apartment after meeting on Tinder on April 10, 2021, after which Smith gave Etute $50. However, Smith was reportedly posing as a woman named “Angie” both on the dating app and during their encounter.

Court records say Etute went back to Smith’s apartment on May 31, 2021 to determine if “Angie” was a woman, bringing two other Hokie players with him because he was not comfortable.

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

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

During Etute’s arraignment hearing on Thursday, May 19 — during which time Etute pleaded not guilty to a second-degree murder charge — the defense introduced 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 the “gay panic defense,” which was passed by the General Assembly in 2021. This law prohibits the use of a person’s perceived or actual gender identity or sexual orientation as a defense in court for the assault or murder of an LGBTQ person.

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

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

The defense went on to say those witnesses wouldn’t testify publicly for the following three reasons:

  1. They are dealing with sensitive and highly personal matters
  2. They are alleged victims of Smith
  3. The defense believes it would be prejudicial not to acknowledge other alleged victims

In response, the prosecution said there has 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 himself.

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

As for the motion regarding the “gay panic defense,” that decision was put on hold.

Etute’s jury trial is set to begin at 9 a.m. on Wednesday, May 25 at the Montgomery Circuit Court in Christiansburg.