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A football player, a killing and the elusive search for justice

Teeth Whitening 4 You
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Former Virginia Tech football player Isi Etute stood trial after being accused of fatally beating Jerry Smith in 2021. Matt Gentry/The Roanoke Times/AP

  • David Hale, ESPN Staff WriterSep 7, 2023, 07:00 AM ET

Warning: This story contains graphic descriptions of violence.

THE DOOR SWUNG open before he could knock, just as it had the first time Isimemen “Isi” Etute visited Apartment 207. That time, Etute had come for sex. Now, he wanted answers.

It was May 31, 2021, just after 10 p.m., and the apartment above Hokie Mart on North Main Street in Blacksburg, Virginia, was dark, save for a hint of light sneaking through a kitchen window. Etute, with his phone’s flashlight on and stuffed in his pocket, walked inside, leaving two of his Virginia Tech football teammates in the hallway.

Above, on a half-flight of stairs, Etute could just barely make out the slight shape of Angie Renee, whom he had met on Tinder in early April. He was an 18-year-old freshman linebacker. According to her profile, she was a 28-year-old physician at a family health clinic. Before their first meeting, she had told Etute that, because of her job, discretion was paramount so she kept the apartment dark. Etute didn’t question the explanation, and even if he had tried to flick on the overhead light, it wouldn’t have mattered. The bulb was unscrewed.

From the staircase, Angie motioned for Etute to follow, leading him to the bedroom, where she asked him to sit on the left side of the bed, just as he had during their first encounter. That time, she had performed oral sex in a pitch-black room, and afterward, Etute’s teammates taunted and teased him, suggesting she might not have been who she claimed. Now, Etute told her to bend over the side of the bed so they could have sex. He wanted to “feel around and see if it felt like a normal woman.” She did as he asked, pulling her tights down, then grabbing Etute’s hand and moving it between her legs. It didn’t feel right.

With his left hand, Etute pulled the phone from his pocket and ripped the hood from Angie’s head. The light revealed what appeared to be a man with short dark hair and stubble.

Etute stepped back from the bed, dazed.

“Why didn’t you tell me you was a [man]?” Etute asked.

Angie spun around on the bed, looked up and smiled.

“I’m not,” Angie said in a soft voice, reaching for Etute’s pants.

Etute slapped Angie’s hand away and delivered a punch to the jaw, knocking Angie to the floor.

Etute punched again, then again and again. As Angie lay prone on the floor, Etute kicked Angie twice and ran for the door, leaving a trail of bloody footprints behind.

THE DOOR TO Apartment 207 was still open when John Smith and his son arrived on the night of June 1, 2021.

John had called his brother, Jerry, that morning and gotten no answer. That was strange, because Jerry typically picked up on the first ring. John tried back a few hours later. Still nothing.

Concerned, John made the short drive from Newport, Virginia, to Jerry’s apartment on Main Street in Blacksburg.

John walked inside and called for his brother while his son waited near the door. A bathroom light was on downstairs, but upstairs, it was dark, save the light from the alleyway that shone through the kitchen window. John climbed the half-flight of stairs, then turned left to face the bedroom. There, on the floor, was 40-year-old Jerry Smith, covered in blood, his broken glasses next to him. He was wearing a dark sweatshirt emblazoned with the words “Blacksburg Rescue Squad” and a pair of tights pulled down to his thighs.

John nudged his brother’s shoulder with his foot. The body was stiff. He pulled his phone from his pocket and dialed 911.