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Judge in Etute case denies defense’s request for lesser charge

Isimemen Etute testifies in Montgomery County Circuit Court in Christiansburg on Thursday.
Matt Gentry/AP
Pool The Roanoke Times
Former Virginia Tech football player Isimemen Etute, 19, testifies Thursday at Montgomery County Circuit Court in Christiansburg.

CHRISTIANSBURG — A Montgomery County Circuit Court judge on Thursday declined to reduce a murder charge levied against a 19-year-old former Virginia Tech football player.

Isimemen Etute’s attorney’s moved to lessen their clients charges to manslaughter, claiming that  there was no evidence to show he acted with malice — which is legally defined as “ the intention, without justification or excuse, to commit an act that is unlawful.”

Etute connected with 40-year old Jerry Paul Smith on the dating app Tinder during April 2021. He was under the impression that he was meeting a 21-year-old woman named Angie Renee. Following their initial sexual encounter at Smith’s Blacksburg apartment, Etute met up with Smith on a second occasion.

When he discovered Smith’s gender, Etute punched him multiple times. On the stand Thursday, the former Tech student said he did not know the blows had been fatal until he was arrested two days later and questioned by police.

Etute testified that when he discovered the person he met on a dating app was anatomically male he felt “violated” and was “shocked and in disbelief that somebody had tricked me and lied to me.”

The defense called the attack a “heat of passion provocation.”

Last year, Virginia banned the so-called “gay panic” defense. The legal strategy asks a jury to find a defendant less culpable because they were provoked after discovering a victim’s sexual orientation or biological sex.

The defense is expected to bring three to four witnesses to the stand Friday before jury deliberations begin.

Whittney Evans is VPM News’ features editor.