A former Virginia Tech football player faces second-degree murder charges for allegedly killing a sexual partner he met on the dating app Tinder after learning the person had been born male.
Isimemen David Etute, 18, of Virginia Beach, told police he had matched with someone named “Angie” on Tinder. On April 10, he visited the victim’s apartment in Blacksburg, Virginia, for oral sex. He returned to the apartment on May 31 to engage in sex, only to discover that “Angie” was Jerry Paul Smith, a 40-year-old restaurant worker, whose family identified him as an out gay man.
Etute told police he became angry, and punch Smith five times in the face, continuing to punch and “stomp” on his face and body, even after Smith fell to the ground. Etute claimed he heard Smith “bubbling and gurgling” as he left the apartment, but never called police.
Police later discovered Smith’s body inside his apartment on June 1.
According to the autopsy, all the bones in Smith’s face were broken and he had several cranial fractures. Smith’s teeth were also missing. The medical examiner’s office said the cause of death was blunt force trauma to the head, reports the Richmond Times-Dispatch.
Appearing in Montgomery County General District Court on Wednesday, Etute was released into his parents’ custody on a $75,000 bond and placed under house arrest and electronic monitoring, according to a release from Commonwealth’s Attorney Mary Pettitt. Etute is also ordered to stay away from Montgomery County except to consult with his attorney or to attend court hearings.
Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Jason Morgan had argued against bail, outlining new details about the case based on Etute’s statements to police. But Duncan said he saw no evidence that Etute would pose a danger to the community if released on bail. Etute is next scheduled to appear in court on June 23.
Etute previously enrolled at Virginia Tech at midyear and attended spring camp with the football team. He has been suspended, as is the practice with any student charged in a felony arrest.
His defense lawyer, James Turk, argued in court that there were extenuating circumstances that led to the altercation between his client and Smith, claiming Smith had solicited the 18-year-old for sex and that Etute did not know Smith was a man during their first sexual encounter.
“I’m not saying what happened was acceptable, but this was more than someone just showing up to an apartment and punching someone,” Turk said.
“Nobody deserves to die, but I don’t mind saying, don’t pretend you are something that you are not. Don’t target or lure anyone under that perception. That’s just wrong,” Turk said after the hearing, according to the Times-Dispatch.
Those comments sparked outrage among Virginia’s LGBTQ community, and raised questions over whether Etute would be able to use the discovery of Smith’s orientation as justification for his violent reaction.
In April, Gov. Ralph Northam (D) signed a bill into law that bans the use of “gay panic” or “trans panic’ defenses to argue for a reduced charge or sentence due to shock or fear at learning of a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity. That bill takes effect on July 1, but it remains unclear whether the new law will apply to Etute’s case, since Smith was killed before the law took effect.
“Regardless of the victim’s gender identity, the comments by Etute’s attorney demonstrate that the defense intends to use transness as an issue in this case,” Samantha Rosenthal, an associate professor of history at Roanoke College and co-founder of the Southwest Virginia LGBTQ+ History Project, told the Times-Dispatch in an email responding to Turk’s comments. “There is unfortunately a long history of framing transgender people as inherently deceptive or untruthful about their identities.
“But the reality is that trans people often conceal parts of themselves expressly to avoid the violence, harassment, and discrimination that is so often directed against us,” Rosenthal continued. “As this case unfolds, I hope that people will realize that transgender men, women, and nonbinary people are on Tinder and have a right to be there, and that presenting oneself as any gender online is not the same thing as catfishing. Trans people do not owe anyone disclosure about their upbringing, their anatomy, or their past.”
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