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Suspect in alleged sex-related killing enters not-guilty plea

Published: May. 19, 2022 at 2:11 PM EDT
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BLACKSBURG, Va. (WDBJ) - The suspect in a 2021 killing in Blacksburg has pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder.

An arraignment was held Thursday for former Virginia Tech football player Isimemen Etute, accused of killing Jerry Paul Smith.

The commonwealth and defense attorney’s are now working to agree on the number of witnesses the defense can bring to the trial.

Etute’s defense team filed two motions on Thursday. The first asks that one of the witnesses is allowed to remain anonymous. Saying “identification could pose a risk of retaliatory physical and mental harm to the witness.”

The second motion relates to the “gay panic defense” statutes that were passed by the General Assembly and went into effect in July 2021.

The statutes state in part that a person’s actual or perceived sex, gender, gender identity or sexual orientation is not in and of itself, or together with an oral solicitation, a defense to any charge of capital murder, first degree murder, second degree murder or voluntary manslaughter.

The motion argues that Jerry Smith died before the statutes went into effect, and they should not be allowed in this trial. A motions hearing will be held on May 23 at 2 p.m. for a judge to decide how the motions will move forward.

A jury trial is scheduled to begin May 25 at 9 a.m.

Smith, 40, was found dead in his apartment June 1. The cause of death was determined to be blunt force injuries to the head.

Isimemen Etute, left, and defense attorney Jimmy Turk in Christiansburg Va. Thursday May 19...
Isimemen Etute, left, and defense attorney Jimmy Turk in Christiansburg Va. Thursday May 19 2022. (AP Photo / The Roanoke Times, Matt Gentry, Pool)(MATT GENTRY, The Roanoke Times | (AP Photo / The Roanoke Times, Matt Gentry, Pool))

In previous court hearings, Etute’s attorney, Jimmy Turk, provided some details about the apparent link between the suspect and the victim. He said Etute and Smith had matched on the dating site Tinder, but Smith’s Tinder profile indicated he was a woman named Angie. The Commonwealth’s Attorney says the two first met April 10 for oral sex, and Etute didn’t realize Smith was a man until they met again May 31.

The Commonwealth’s Attorney says Etute punched Smith five times in the head, making Smith fall, at which point Etute stepped on Smith’s head. An exam indicated every bone in Smith’s face was broken, and he had missing and broken teeth.

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