A suspended college football player has been formally indicted on murder charges stemming from the killing of a trans woman he met on a dating app.
Isimemen David Etute, a freshman who was recruited to play linebacker at Virginia Tech, was hit with second-degree murder charges in the death of Jerry Paul Smith in May. A grand jury returned the indictment on Wednesday.
Etute, who was arrested back in June for the May 31 killing, has said that Smith presented himself as a woman named Angie on Tinder. Under the purported assumption that Smith was a woman, Etute, 18, said they got together in April and had oral sex. The next month, Etute said he suspected Smith, 40, was not a biological woman and, according to the Roanoke Times, “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.”
The phenomenon described by Etute is casually referred to as catfishing, a popular slang term for a person pretending to be someone who they are not on social media.
According to Virginia law, a conviction for second-degree murder is punishable by up to 40 years in prison and no fewer than five years.
Etute was arrested and suspended from the team. He was ultimately freed on a $75,000 bond and allowed to live with his family in Virginia Beach, but the indictment could threaten his freedom until the trial begins. A preliminary hearing has been scheduled for Nov. 18.
The nature of Smith’s brutal killing rocked the quiet college town of Blacksburg.
During a hearing in June shortly after the killing, Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Jason Morgan said Etute was “stomping” Smith, who was left left “bubbling and gurgling” on his floor at his home in Blacksburg. Morgan said every bone in Smith’s face was broken, including having his teeth knocked out along with fractures of the cranium.
Etute’s defense attorney seemed to blame the victim during the hearing back in June.
“Nobody deserves to die, but I don’t mind saying, don’t pretend you are something that you are not,” Jimmy Turk said at the time. “Don’t target or lure anyone under that perception. That’s just wrong.”
Violence against the trans community has soared in recent years.
Smith was one of at least 41 transgender or gender non-conforming people who have been killed this year from targeted violence, according to the Human Rights Campaign. That followed “the most violent year” against transgender people with 44 killings that disproportionately affected Black and brown people.