A jury found Etute, 19, not guilty of second-degree murder charges for the death of Jerry Smith, 40, in 2021, determining that Etute acted in self-defense when Smith seemingly lurched for an object near his bed, where a knife was later discovered by police.
“I think he’s earned the right to go back to school and further his academic and sports career,” Etute’s lawyer, James Turk, said after the ruling, per ESPN. “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.”
Etute went ballistic on Smith upon discovering he was a man, having expected his Tinder date to be female, prosecutors alleged. His physical stature over Smith, with Etute weighing over 50 pounds more than him, cast doubt on the notion Smith was grasping for a weapon because Smith did not pose a physical threat to him, they argued, according to the New York Post.
“That’s a big disparity,” Montgomery County Chief Deputy Commonwealth’s Attorney Patrick Jensen said in reference to his weight and height advantage, according to the Associated Press.
Etute and Smith first connected via Tinder in April 2021, according to court testimony. Smith posed as a lady named “Angie Renee,” and the two met on April 10. He initially left the meeting amid concerns over Smith concealing his face and keeping the room dark but later returned and received oral sex from Smith and a $50 gift, according to reports.
On May 31, a teammate of Etute’s went to Smith’s apartment but left after feeling uncomfortable about the situation. Etute and two of his teammates opted to return to Smith’s apartment later that day to try to ascertain Smith’s gender, reports added. Etute entered the apartment alone while his teammates waited outside, and after Etute “felt around” to determine Smith’s gender, Smith groped him, prompting a smack from Etute, the former linebacker testified. Etute believed that Smith was trying to reach for some sort of weapon such as a gun and struck him a few more times in response, he testified. He confessed to stomping on Smith’s face as he left.
Etute acknowledged that he did not see the knife at the time, but police officers later discovered it under the mattress, reports said. The former Virginia Tech student broke almost all the bones in Smith’s face and he suffered bleeding of the brain, a medical examiner determined.
The jury deliberated on the case for three hours before reaching a decision.
Etute was suspended from Virginia Tech and the football team after prosecutors unveiled charges against him last year. His lawyer argued the incident should be a lesson for users of apps such as Tinder.
“It should be an eye-opener not just for college athletes, but any young people using these social media platforms,” he said. “They can be extremely useful, but they can be extremely dangerous.”