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Judge denies motion to keep witnesses anonymous in alleged sex-related Blacksburg murder

Published: May. 23, 2022 at 3:55 PM EDT
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CHRISTIANSBURG, Va. (WDBJ) - A judge has denied a motion by lawyers for the suspect in a Blacksburg murder to keep some witnesses anonymous, saying the public and press have a right to know who’s testifying.

The defense for Isi Etute said those witnesses would be testifying on “extremely sensitive and highly personal matters” and that these witnesses would have had interaction with victim Jerry Smith, and are also alleged victims.

Such a motion is usually brought by prosecutors, but was presented by the defense in this case because the witnesses would be testifying on behalf of the defense. The defense also said the witnessed won’t testify without the promise of anonymity, so Etute could be denied some witnesses. The defense said one witness had sexual contact with Smith and needs anonymity, but the prosecution said sensitive sexual topics have a history of being discussed in court without anonymity.

A motion dealing with “gay panic” statutes was tabled, because the commonwealth’s attorney’s office never wrote a reply to the motion. The commonwealth’s attorney suggested the jury hear the facts of the case before a motion like this comes into play.

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.

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

In previous court hearings, Etute’s attorney provided some details about the alleged 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.

Click here for earlier stories on this case.

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