Virginia Tech linebacker Isimemen Etute has been indicted by a grand jury for allegedly murdering a male Tinder date whom he mistook as a woman.
The 18-year-old Etute was arrested this past May for the killing of 40-year-old Jerry Paul Smith, with whom he connected through the dating app Tinder.
“Attorneys have said Etute and Smith connected through the Tinder app, got together on April 10, and had oral sex,” reported The Roanoke Times. “But Etute thought that he had met with a woman, not a man, according to statements at earlier hearings.”
One month later, under the suspicion that Smith may have been a man, Etute went to the restaurant project manager’s downtown Blacksburg apartment to uncover his true identity, leading to a deadly encounter.
“A detective testified at Etute’s preliminary hearing that the football player told investigators that on May 31, he groped Smith to try to determine his gender, used his phone’s flashlight to get a better look at Smith in the dark apartment, then began punching him,” Roanoke added.
Etute allegedly beat Smith to death.
Now that a Montogomery County grand jury has indicted Etute, he will be tried in the county’s Circuit Court, with a hearing scheduled for November 18. If he is convicted of second-degree murder, Etute can face up to 40 years in prison and no fewer than five years, according to Virginia law.
Etute likely got caught up in a situation known as “catfishing,” wherein a person pretends to be who they are not on social media.
According to Newsone, Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Jason Morgan argued in June that Etute was “stomping Smith” until he was left “bubbling and gurgling” on the floor. Every bone in Smith’s face was reportedly broken, with his “teeth knocked out along with fractures of the cranium.”
Etute’s defense attorney Jimmy Turk argued that Smith contributed to his own death by pretending to be something that he’s not.
“Nobody deserves to die, but I don’t mind saying, don’t pretend you are something that you are not,” Turk argued. “Don’t target or lure anyone under that perception. That’s just wrong.”
Samantha Rosenthal, associate professor of history at Roanoke College and co-founder of the Southwest Virginia LGBTQ+ History Project, denounced Turk’s argument as being deeply transphobic.
“There is unfortunately a long history of framing transgender people as inherently deceptive or untruthful about their identities,” said Rosenthal.
“I hope that people will realize that transgender men, women, and non-binary 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,” Rosenthal added.