Day Three of Trial: Friday, May 27

MONTGOMERY COUNTY, Va. (WFXR) — On the third day of the murder trial for Isimemen Etute — the former Virginia Tech football player charged in connection with the death of Jerry Paul Smith last year — the defense rested their case, which means two hours of closing arguments are set to begin Friday afternoon.

As the proceedings began on Friday, May 27, the defense stipulated that the Commonwealth did not disclose crime scene photos of Smith’s apartment before June 17, 2021.

After that, Etute’s brother, Ehis, was called the the witness stand, but then the prosecution wanted to discuss something off the record without the jury present, making a motion to exclude Etute’s brother as a witness.

Once the jury left, the prosecution claim that a discovery order was signed and submitted by March 31, requiring the defense to disclose their witness list no later than 10 business days before the trial.

About 10 minutes went by before the prosecution and defense came out to grab notepads and bring Etute’s brother to speak with the judge. Shortly afterward, the judge asked for all the witness to come into the courtroom and asked them not to discuss witness testimonies, court rulings, and what goes on in the courtroom with anyone.

Then, the prosecution’s motion to remove Ehis as a witness was brought back into discussion, with the prosecution saying that if the judge allowed Etute’s brother to testify, it would be considered “a trial by ambush.”

At this point, Judge Mike Fleenor wanted to know when the defense was aware they were going to have Etute’s brother testify. The judge also said he was trying to avoid a trial by surprise and give the parties the chance to prepare for cross-examination.

“It is extraordinary for a court to exclude a witness,” the judge said.

Fleenor asked the prosecution if they would accept a brief continuance so they could take a couple of hours to properly figure out how to keep Ehis as a witness but feel ready enough to cross-examine him. After that, the judge asked for a recess.

When the court came back from recess, the prosecution told WFXR News’ Kelsey Jean-Baptiste that the defense removed Ehis as a witness.

After that, the defense called up Jordan Brunson, Etute’s friend, who described Etute as outgoing and goofy before the incident, saying he never knew Etute to be violent.

Etute’s defense attorney, Jimmy Turk, showed Brunson’s filter on his Tinder profile, showing that Brunson was only interested in women under the age of 22, specifying that he was straight.

Brunson said he never knew Etute matched with “Angie Renee” — the woman 40-year-old Smith pretended to be on Tinder — back in April 2021.

According to Brunson, he only found out about “Angie Renee” on May 31, 2021 after a bunch of friends went to a soccer game. When Etute and Brunson got in the car, Brunson said their friend, Jalen Hampton, called Etute and they all met up outside “Angie Renee’s” Blacksburg apartment.

The men then talked about their plan, which involved Etute going in to find out if “Angie Renee” was a man.

“If anything happens, I told him to run and walk out,” Brunson said.

When the defense asked Brunson if he was worried at the time, he replied, “I was worried about his safety and I felt there was something wrong. Prior to going up there, Isi got a text saying come up alone.”

Brunson testified that he, Hampton, and Etute never had a conversation about violence.

After that, the defense rested their case, which was followed by jury instruction before the closing statements begin.

UPDATE 5:33 p.m.: Jury deliberations are underway after closing statements wrapped up in the murder trial for Isimemen Etute in connection with the death of Jerry Smith in Blacksburg last year.

Montgomery County Deputy Chief Commonwealth’s Attorney Patrick Jensen spoke first, starting by saying that he didn’t known why Smith was being deceitful and that “the internet and social media are truly the Wild West.”

Jensen continued by showing slides discussing what the prosecution thought were important jury instructions:

  • Smith’s death was an unintentional killing
  • The prosecution does not have to prove malice
  • Once an unlawful killing has been shown, there is a presumption that it was with malice

At that point, Jensen argued that Etute killed Smith with malice, which is the unintentional doing of a wrongful act at a time when a person’s mind is taken under control of reason.

The prosecution then emphasized the size difference between Etute — a teenage Division 1 athlete who is 6 feet 2 inches tall and weighs over 200 pounds — and the 153-pound Smith.

After that, Jensen discussed how Etute’s testimony in court differed from what he told police in the interrogation room last year.

More specifically, on June 2, 2021, Etute told the Blacksburg Police Department that Smith never had a weapon, but on Thursday, May 26, Etute testified that Smith reached for what Etute thought was a gun and fought back.

The prosecution claimed Etute had a motive to change his statement, but asked the jury what they believe.

“If you believe from the evidence that he told police on June 2 as being true, then you should find him guilty of second-degree murder,” Jensen said, arguing that Etute beat Smith to death and he did it with malice.

However, if the jurors don’t believe it was second-degree murder, the prosecution advised them to charge Etute with voluntary manslaughter.

At this point, Etute’s defense attorney, Jimmy Turk, began his closing argument. He started by thanking the jury for being patient and telling them he is an emotional person. Turk then urged the jurors to find Etute not guilty — even if they are unsure of anything in the case — and argued that the former football player acted out of self-defense.

After that, Turk asked the jury to consider two questions in the scope of the case:

  • Would you want to be in a room with Etute or Smith?
  • Would Etute or Smith be the first to resort to violence?

Turk went on to argue that Smith was not an honest man, saying the defense has proved that Smith did what he did for his own sexual gratification.

The defense focused on May 31, 2021, saying that this was not just Etute accidentally killing Smith because he was a man, but rather Smith cheating Etute into being engaged in a sexual situation.

Turk said his biggest arguments involved three things:

  • Smith reportedly grabbing Etute and reaching for something
  • The knife hidden between the mattress and the bed frame, as seen in the evidence
  • The difference between the statement that Etute gave the police and the one he made in court

According to Turk, the defense’s argument is direct because Etute told them exactly what happened, but the prosecution’s evidence is only circumstantial because Smith is dead.

Turk then began to cry as he discussed how Etute and his two friends were completely normal boys before this incident, adding that Etute has been truthful the entire time.

The defense tackled the prosecution’s main argument involving the difference in Etute’s statements. Turk said the reason Etute did not bring up self-defense last year was because the members of the police department who interviewed him did not ask two significant questions that explain Etute’s self-defense case.

Turk also addressed Etute’s size, saying how Smith was covered from head to toe and Etute had no way of knowing how big Smith was. In addition, the attorney argued that Smith controlled the entire environment because it was his

“If I had a son, I would want him to be exactly like Etute,” Turk said through his tears.

At this point, the prosecution did one final cross-examination of the defense’s closing argument, restating that this is not a case of self-defense, but rather a case of second-degree murder — or at least voluntary manslaughter.

Then, the prosecution reminded the jury that the only two people in the bedroom were Smith and Etute, so the testimony from Etute’s friends holds no merit. In addition, they argued that Smith never reached for anything and that the right to use deadly force only applies if it’s reasonable and non-excessive, but Etute beat Smith up, so that was not reasonable.

After the closing statements, Judge Mike Fleenor told the jury they needed to select a leader to keep everyone from talking over each other, allow everyone to speak their minds, and make a unanimous agreement before they fill out the verdict form. The judge added that the exhibits are accessible to the jurors as they deliberate.

As jury deliberations got underway, WFXR News’ Kelsey Jean-Baptiste spoke with Turk, who says Etute could get a sentence ranging from five to 40 years if convicted of second-degree murder, but for voluntary manslaughter, only one to 10 years.

UPDATE 6:37 p.m.: Isimemen Etute, a former Virginia Tech football player, has been found not guilty of second-degree murder in connection with a Blacksburg man’s death last year.

The jury decided Friday evening not to charge Etute with second-degree murder or voluntary manslaughter in the death of Jerry Paul Smith.

This is a developing story.

Day Two of Trial: Thursday, May 26

MONTGOMERY COUNTY, Va. (WFXR) — On Thursday morning, the second day of proceedings got underway in the former Virginia Tech football player Isimemen Etute’s murder trial following the death of a Blacksburg man, Jerry Paul Smith.

Day two started with video evidence of Etute being interviewed by the Blacksburg Police Department’s lead investigator, Detective Ryan Hite, on June 2, 2021. In the video, Hite asks Etute where he was from, and if he was a Virginia Tech football player. Etute sitting in a chair next to a table had this to say to the police.

“I’m going to be completely honest with you because when I get nervous I start to stutter,” said Etute.

During the investigation, detectives asked several more questions about his apartment, when he was going to start school, what his major was, future plans, and when he would start playing football for the university.

Etute looked at the police and responded that he was majoring in physical therapy.

Investigators then asked if he knew why he was brought into the station for questioning.

“I met a person named Angie on Tinder. Then I went to the apartment. It was dark, but I said ‘f— it’ and that what I did,” Etute said.

Video evidence during Isimemen Etute’s murder trial from Blacksburg Police Department

Etute continued to open up to police about the conditions of “Angie Renee’s” room after he arrived. He then discussed the experience he had with “Angie Renee,” who would hide “her” face from Etute.

Then, during his second encounter, Etute told police that something didn’t feel right

That’s when Etute says he used his flashlight to see what Smith’s physical features were and then he told police “I hit him a couple of times.”

The interview continued:

Police: “You are not a bad person.”

Etute: “I had my d— sucked.”

Police: “I’m sorry I think I heard you, but did you have oral sex?

Video evidence during Isimemen Etute’s murder trial from Blacksburg Police Department

During this part of the interview, police wanted clarification on when and how Etute reached out to “Angie Renee” the second time.

Etute, remembering parts of the encounter, told police more, saying, “Even after the first time, I tried to go online to see who lived in that building, but nothing came up.”

Etute admitted that before he went to the apartment for the second time, “Angie Renee” contacted Etute on multiple occasions.

“The number just kept texting me. Actually, they reached out to me, because they keep texting me,” he said.

He told police that “Angie Renee” wanted Etute to put in a good word with his friends.

The interview continued, but near the end, police asked Etute what he thought happened to “Angie Renee.” Then, they told him that Smith was dead, at which point Etute puts his head in his hands and began to cry uncontrollably before the video ended.

As the lights turned back on in the courtroom, the Montgomery County Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney finished asking Hite clarifying questions.

After that, it was time for the defense to cross-examine the prosecution’s witness.

Jimmy Turk, Etute’s lawyer, questioned the interview tactics of the police, wanting the jury to understand that Etute was truthful to the Blacksburg Police Department.

He also made the case that even though Etute only hit Smith with his hands, when authorities took photos of his hands, there were no scratches or bruises on them.

The prosecution then brought up their last witness: Forensic Detective Mike Czernicki.

Czernicki spoke about the blood splatter left on the walls, floors, and hallways of Smith’s apartment.

He says a lot of the blood on the walls came from aspiration splatter, which means Smith was trying to breathe or possibly sneeze after he got punched by Etute and after Etute left.

In addition, Czernicki reported finding impact blood stains on the ground underneath where Smith was laying. That came from a flat object striking Smith in the face.

The defense chose to cross-examine Czernicki, who admitted that his findings show that Etute’s assault on only lasted seconds. The forensic detective also testified that no blood was found anywhere in the room besides where Smith’s body was.

He also said that Etute’s punches were considered “medium velocity.”

This is where Judge Mike Fleenor called a recess for a lunch break.

UPDATE 1 p.m.: After the lunch break, the defense made a motion to strike Isimemen Etute’s second-degree murder charge, saying the prosecution failed to show malice, which is a key part of the charge.

The defense argued they have proven Etute had no weapon and only used his fists. In addition, they claimed that fists cannot be considered a deadly weapon in Virginia.

Etute’s attorneys added that what has been entered as evidence is the fact that Etute made a plan to run out if he found out that “Angie Renee” was a man, which is what he did. The defense also argued that instead of acting with malice, Etute was just scared and frantic.

The prosecution responded by saying there is no evidence to support reducing Etute’s charge.

Judge Mike Fleenor ended up denying the defense’s motion to reduce the charge.

UPDATE 1:30 p.m.: Isimemen Etute, the former Virginia Tech football player on trial for murder in connection with a Blacksburg man’s death last year, took the stand Thursday afternoon to testify.

Etute’s defense attorney, Jimmy Turk, started off by asking about “Angie Renee,” the 28-year-old woman who 40-year-old Jerry Paul Smith pretended to be on Tinder.

The defense showed the cellphone conversations between “Angie Renee” and Etute:

Etute: “Yo”

Angie: “Hi”

Etute: “Trying to meet”

Angie: “Yeah D-T-F… unfortunately at work right now. Hit me up with I’m out.”

Etute: “I’m going to be with my friend and my friend can slide.”

Angie: “I’ll F— both of you. I’ll do one at a time. At work right now.”

Etute: “Okay, I will. When are you going to be home.”

Angie: “10:00 p.m.”

Etute: “Send me more pics of yourself.”

Text messages presented during Isimemen Etute’s murder trial by defense attorney Jimmy Turk

After Etute met up with “Angie Renee,” he blocked her number.

However, when Etute went home to Virginia Beach for a short break, he said a friend told him that the first encounter with “Angie Renee” was sketchy and encouraged him to go find out if “she” was a guy.

Etute testified that he went back to “Angie Renee’s” apartment for a second time on May 31, 2021, but only to only see if “she” was a man.

He said his plan was to go to the apartment with his friends, Jalen Hampton and Jordan Brunson, and to keep his cellphone flashlight in his pocket so could shine a light on “Angie Renee.”

Etute testified that “Angie Renee” tried to perform oral sex on him, he said no, “she” bent over the bed, and then Etute felt around and realized that something didn’t feel right. At that point, Etute reportedly pulled back “Angie Renee’s” hoodie and used the flashlight to see that Smith was a man.

Etute said he asked Smith, “Why didn’t you tell me you were a dude?” At that point, Smith replied, “I’m not a dude” before quickly groping Etute and trying to distract him from the knife, according to Etute.

While Etute was on the stand, the defense also showed Etute’s Tinder profile, which showed that he had a gender filter saying he was only interested in females, as well as a sexual orientation set as straight.

Turk also showed Smith’s “Angie Renee” profile, which specified that “she” was only interested in men under the age of 30, but used photos that were taken from a real woman who graduated from Virginia Tech and worked as an emergency physician at Carilion Clinic.

Etute then took the entire courtroom through the same physical altercation that has been repeated multiple times in the two-day trial, where Smith grabbed Etute’s crotch as he reached for something that was on the left side of the bed.

“I felt violated, I felt shocked, and in disbelief that someone would trick me and lie to me,” said Etute.

He even told the jury that he had to drive up to the mountains to be by himself because he was never the same after that incident

During his testimony, Etute stood multiple times, demonstrating the actions he took during the fight with Smith, even showing how he punched him.

After that, it was time for the prosecution to cross-examine Etute.

They asked about how much Etute weighed, how long he has been playing football, and whether or not his football skills would have helped him run away like he planned instead of punching Smith.

Etute told them he believed if he turned his back to Smith, he might pull out a gun and shoot him.

Etute continued to demonstrate for the courtroom different aspects of the fight with Smith, even how Smith was laying on the bed.

One of the biggest points prosecutors made was that the fight Etute described in front of the jury was different than the one he told Blacksburg Police Department. When asked why, Etute said he was not himself that day and was emotional.

“I didn’t say a word. I could not speak. I didn’t speak for a long time,” said Etute.

He told the defense that he did not call the police because he seriously did not believe that Smith was hurt that badly. Etute added that he has never gotten into trouble before and never in his life would he want someone dead.

UPDATE: 4 p.m.: The defense called one of Isimemen Etute’s friends, Jalen Hampton, who testified that they used Tinder and set their filters to only show women, not men.

Hampton said that he spoke with “Angie Renee” on the phone so they could meet up at her place. He went to the apartment around 9 p.m. on May 31, 2021, which was the same time Etute and “Angie Renee” met in April, but Hampton did not know.

He testified that he had doubts about his entire choice of meeting up with a stranger.

“I thought I was going to get laid or get blackmailed,” Hampton said.

He added when he got to the door, he did go inside because the apartment was too dark and “Angie Renee” wouldn’t show “her” face.

Hampton claimed he told “Angie Renee” that he would be more comfortable if “she” showed her face.

Hampton got to the point of the story where he waited in the hallway for Etute during the second encounter, alongside another friend. He said he heard some banging noises before Etute came out of the apartment crying.

During cross-examination from the prosecution, Hampton told them that a part of the plan for Etute was to yell for help if he got in trouble.

Prosecutors asked Hampton if he would have actually gone in there to help him, to which he replied that he did not know.

UPDATE 4:40 p.m.: The last witness to take the stand on day two of Isimemen Etute’s murder trial was Da’Shawn Elder.

He testified that “Angie Renee” — the woman 40-year-old Jerry Paul Smith pretended to be — wanted Etute to bring Elder along on the first visit, and promised to give oral sex to both of them.

Elder said that when they got to the apartment, “Angie Renee” refused to show “her” face. Elder got uncomfortable, so he pulled out his phone, pretending to text someone, and then left because he was feeling scared.

Elder admitted that Etute followed him out of the apartment, but went back to receive oral sex. Elder said that he called his friend to find out what he should do. His friend reportedly told him to go get Etute because it could be a dangerous situation.

Elder went back to the apartment to get Etute, screaming for him at the front of Smith’s door.

“I told him he was dumb,” said Elder.

He also told Etute that he needed to get checked in two weeks because there was a chance he could have gotten a sexually transmitted disease.

In addition, Elder testified that police questioned him on June 2, 2021, but he lied to them about his encounter with Smith to protect his football scholarship.

After the incident on May 31, 2021, Elder said he saw Etute sitting in the parking lot.

“He seemed broken,” Elder said. “It was like everything in him was just shattered.”

He added that Etute refused to talk, saying he wasn’t his happy self anymore.

This is a developing story. WFXR News will provide updates on this trial as they become available.

Day One of Trial: Wednesday, May 25

MONTGOMERY COUNTY, Va. (WFXR) — Jury selection has wrapped up in the trial of a former Virginia Tech football player, Isimemen Etute, who is charged with second-degree murder in connection with the death of a Blacksburg man.

WFXR News’ Kelsey Jean-Baptiste is in court where the jury has been selected on Wednesday, May 25. There will be nine women and four men serving as jurors during the trial.

During jury selection, the Montgomery County Commonwealth’s Attorney questioned potential jury members about whether or not they will have a hard time looking at video and photo evidence from the case.

Multiple people from the jury pool left for several reasons including not agreeing with the beliefs of the LGBTQ community; being a victim of assault in Montgomery County; hanging out with Jerry Smith, the man who was killed, and knowing his lifestyle; and having friends who also knew Smith.

Etute was arrested after police found Smith’s body on June 1, 2021, during a welfare check. Prosecutors say Etute and Smith had known each other for a short time after meeting through a dating app. However, Smith was reportedly posing as a woman named Angie.

According to prosecutors, their first sexual encounter was on April 10, 2021. The two met up again on May 31, 2021, but at that time, Etute realized Smith was a man.

The Commonwealth believes Etute became enraged, punched Smith several times in the face, and stomped on Smith with enough force to break every bone in his face. The medical examiner ruled Smith died from blunt force injuries to the head.

UPDATE 2:59 p.m.: The murder trial for Isimemen Etute began after the jury was selected and seated on Wednesday morning.

WFXR News’s Kelsey Jean-Baptiste has been in the courtroom all day for day one of the trial. During the trial, pictures of Smith’s body dead in his apartment were presented to the jury. Jean-Baptiste says these pictures showed Smith wearing tights and a blue hoodie.

Afterwhich, the prosecution called several witnesses to testify.

Some of the witnesses the jury heard from was Smith’s brother who talked about how he didn’t approve of Smith’s lifestyle. The Blacksburg Police Department also spoke about the crime scene during the investigation. The prosecution called the medical examiner, Dr. Amy Tharp, to the stand. She talked about how Smith died from blunt force trauma to the head.

UPDATE 9:07 p.m.: The murder trial for former Virginia Tech football player, Isimemen Etute, got underway on Wednesday, with opening statements beginning shortly after jury selection wrapped up.

Montgomery County Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Jason Morgan went first, laying out the circumstances surrounding the death of Jerry Paul Smith of Blacksburg in 2021.

The prosecution went through the events of the case, stating that Etute met up with 28-year-old “Angie Renee” — who was actually 40-year-old Smith — after finding her on the Tinder dating app. Etute received oral sex from “Angie” on April 10, 2021, but Etute initiated the second encounter for May 31, 2021, because of doubts of “Angie’s” gender.

Etute and his friends, Jalen Hampton and Jordan Brunson, came up with a plan to have Etute keep a flashlight on in his pocket so he could determine if Smith was a man or a woman.

Ultimately, this led to the fight between Smith and Etute, with the prosecution accusing Etute of breaking every bone in Smith’s face.

Etute’s defense attorney, Jimmy Turk, had a longer opening statement, starting with an announcement that that Etute will be testifying. He continued by saying that Etute is a good person who never got into any trouble and never had a run-in with the law.

Turk also argued that Smith specifically targeted young Black males for his own sexual gratification, calling Smith a sexual predator. In addition, the defense said that Smith stole photographs of the “real Angie Renee,” who was a Virginia Tech graduate, and used them as his own.

According to Turk, the argument between Smith and Etute only got violent after Smith reportedly groped Etute in the crotch area. Turk argued that Etute thought Smith was distracting him to get something that was on the left side of his bed, which evidence showed was a knife.

However, at the time, Etute believed Smith was reaching for a gun, so Etute fought back in order to protect himself, Turk said.

After opening statements, several witnesses took the stand on behalf of the prosecution, each of whom shared different testimonies.

Smith’s brother, John, spoke about the discovery of his brother’s body on June 1, 2021. He said he tried to call Smith several times and never got an answer. He thought something was wrong because he claimed his brother “always” picked up the phone or at least called him back.

John said that he did not approve of his brother being gay and never knew about his Tinder account or sexual acts.

Blacksburg Police Officer CJ Linkous was flagged down by John, telling him that his brother was dead in his apartment.

The medical examiner, Dr. Amy Tharp, testified that Smith died from blunt force trauma to the head. She said the cause of death was also from inhaling his own blood, which created a “frothy” liquid in his mouth.

Alongside Tharp, the prosecution continued to show graphic photos of Smith after he died.

The defense cross-examined Tharp, asking her a series of questions about how rare it is for someone to die from a fist fight. Turk’s law partner, Cliff Harrison, also brought up how many blows to the head Smith sustained, how long Smith stayed alive after the fight, and more.

Tharpe said she has performed over 3,000 autopsies in her career and has only seen about 10 people die from a fist fight.

Next up, Blacksburg Detective Heather Rose-Semple took the witness stand and discussed the entire crime scene of the room.

On top of the knife that was found in between Smith’s mattress and box frame, the biggest talking point with this witness was the placement of the knife in Smith’s room.

The defense cross-examined Rose-Semple, asking about another knife in Smith’s basement. Rose-Semple claimed she never saw the knife before Turk showed it in his photos.

Lastly, Blacksburg Detective Ryan Hite took the witness stand. He broke down what Etute told him after Etute voluntarily went with officers to the Blacksburg Police Department. This was similar to what court documents stated in the past about Etute’s and Smith’s encounters.

Hite told the jury that Etute was truthful, forthcoming, and honest about his encounter with Smith. One thing Hite mentioned was that Etute told detectives that Smith didn’t fight back, instead just swatting him away with his hands.

At this point, the court was adjourned. When the trial resumes, will start off with the prosecution playing a 45-minute interview of Etute and Detective Hite.

For the record, the defense objected to the prosecution’s photos on multiple occasions. Each time, Judge Mike Fleenor overruled those objections. The defense also cross-examined every witness that the prosecution brought up. In addition, the prosecution produced a floorplan showing the layout of Smith’s apartment, and showed four videos of Etute and his friends arriving at and leaving Smith’s apartment.