UPDATE 5:10 p.m.: Virginia Tech’s Associate Vice President for University Relations, Mark Owczarski tells WFXR News that there will be no comment from the university at this time, saying, “[It] would not be appropriate for us to comment on a current court case.”
MONTGOMERY COUNTY, Va. (WFXR) — Newly-unsealed court documents show three Virginia Tech football players were the subject of a potential hate crime investigation in connection with the murder charge against suspended Hokie player Isimemen Etute from 2021.
Search warrants filed in June 2021 were unsealed on Tuesday, March 29 by a federal judge. Those documents show a FBI agent assigned to the Roanoke area requested data from Etute’s cell phone, his Tinder account, and the cell phones from three other Virginia Tech football players regarding violations of federal Hate Crime Acts.
According to the U.S. Department of Justice, a federal hate crime is “motivated by bias against race, color, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, or disability.”
The court documents name two players who were reportedly with Etute when he met with the Blacksburg man on the day of his death, as well as a third player who was involved in conversations about the incident. WFXR News is not sharing the identity of those players since they have not been charged.
Police say they arrested Etute after finding the body of 40-year-old Jerry Paul Smith of Blacksburg — who died from blunt force injuries to the head — on June 1, 2021 during a welfare check.
Smith’s family members told authorities that Smith was “an openly gay male with an active lifestyle on social media,” using platforms such as Tinder and Facebook, court records say.
According to investigators, Etute said he and Smith had a sexual encounter in Smith’s apartment after meeting on Tinder on April 10, 2021, after which Smith gave Etute $50. However, Smith was reportedly posing as a woman named “Angie” both on the dating app and during their encounter.
Later on, “Angie” texted Etute and asked him to put in a good word for her with one of his friends — one of the other players named in the warrant — who ended up scheduling a date with “Angie” for May 31, 2021. However, that player never went inside “Angie’s” apartment because, as written in the court documents, “the person seemed suspicious” and the player was “uncomfortable with the situation.”
Police say Etute also went to Smith’s apartment on May 31, 2021 to determine if “Angie” was a man or a woman.
Court documents say Etute and two of the Virginia Tech football players whose cell phone records were requested — including the one who was supposed to have a date with “Angie” earlier that day — were seen on security camera footage approaching and leaving Smith’s apartment the night of his death. Etute reportedly asked the other two to come with him to the apartment for a Tinder date because he was not comfortable.
Shortly after Etute went into the apartment, the warrants say the two players heard banging noises inside and then Etute left the apartment crying with a bleeding hand. Etute later told one of the players that “Angie” was a man instead of a woman and that when he tried to touch Etute, Etute freaked out and beat him up.
The prosecution previously accused Etute of becoming enraged after finding out “Angie” was a man, punching Smith several times in the face, and stomping on Smith with enough force to break every bone in his face.
According to the records unsealed on Tuesday, Etute admitted to hitting Smith five times, even after he was on the ground, and kicking him once in the face. Even though Smith was not talking when Etute left, Etute believed he heard Smith breathing and making noises.
One of the players told detectives he had gone along with Etute to provide support due to the text messages he had received from Smith, adding that he did not expect anything to happen and would not have gone if the plan was to assault someone.
Court documents also say that Etute told police, “I didn’t go there like with full intentions to just beat him up.”
A grand jury at the Montgomery County Circuit Court returned a true bill on Oct. 26, 2021 indicting Etute for a charge of second-degree murder in connection with Smith’s death.
Etute is scheduled to go before a jury for his trial on May 25.
WFXR News is still digging into these extensive court documents and will share more information as it becomes available.