A former college football player was found not guilty on all charges in connection with the killing of a gay man who posed as a woman on Tinder.
Isimemen Etute was found not guilty on second-degree murder charges in Montgomery County Circuit Court over the death of Jerry Smith.
The court was told that Smith falsely posed on the dating app as 21-year-old “Angie Renee” in an attempt to meet straight college-age men.
Mr Etute, who was a player at Virginia Tech, matched with Smith on the app and went to “Angie’s” apartment in April 2021, where the court was told he received oral sex.
Two other Virginia Tech players also reported matching with “Angie” but left the apartment as they felt uncomfortable.
The jury was told that a month later Mr Etute, 19, returned to the apartment to find out if “Angie” had lied to him about their gender.
He testified that when he confronted Smith he reached for a weapon under the bed, causing the football player to kick and punch Smith.
Investigators later found a knife under the mattress at the apartment.
Smith, 40, had every bone in his face broken and was missing several teeth, and his body was found two days after the incident.
Mr Etute was arrested in June 2021 and charged with second-degree murder after police connected him to the incident.
Two other teammates who went with Mr Etute to the apartment but stayed outside were not charged with any crimes.
He could have faced between five and 40 years behind bars if convicted, but the jury believed his self-defence argument.
On 1 July 2021, Virginia passed a law restricting the use of a “gay panic” defence, in which a murder defendant could get a lesser sentence by arguing they panicked when they found out the victim’s sexual orientation or gender identity.
The judge in Mr Etute’s case ruled that the legislation, passed after Smith’s death, could not be used in the trial.