7:05 PM ET

Isimemen Etute, a former Virginia Tech football player, was found not guilty of all charges on Friday in the death of a Blacksburg resident.

The jury could have convicted him on the lesser charge of voluntary manslaughter, which carries a sentence of five to 40 years. The jury believed a self-defense argument that Etute feared for his life after seeing the victim reach toward his bed.

A contingent of about 30 family members, supporters and former teammates erupted in cheers as the verdict was read, with Etute collapsing in tears.

James Turk said his client deserved a second chance at a football career after the verdict.

He has earned the right to go back to school and further his studies.

On June 2, 2021, Etute was arrested and charged with the murder of Jerry Smith, a local Blacksburg man who had posed as a woman online in order to meet straight, college-aged men.

According to testimony, Smith posed as a woman named "Angie Renee" on the dating app "TINDER" in order to connect with Etute. Elder was disturbed by the meeting in which Smith hid his face and kept his apartment dark. Both players left the apartment, but Etute came back and testified that he received oral sex and a gift from Smith.

He testified that he left the April 10 encounter still believing Smith was a woman, but teammates began teasing him that his sexual partner could have been a man.

On May 31, another player from Virginia Tech connected with another player on a dating app. He went to the apartment expecting a sexual encounter with a woman, but left after feeling uncomfortable. Smith encouraged Etute to put in a good word with his teammate after making contact with him.

They decided to return to Smith's apartment to determine his gender. If Smith was a woman, another sexual encounter may have occurred, but he would flee the apartment.

During testimony Thursday, Etute said he entered Smith's apartment alone and had sex with Smith on a bed. He used his cell phone to determine that Smith was not a woman. Smith grabbed at Etute's genitals, causing him to strike Smith in the face with the back of his hand. Smith was struck with a fist by Etute after he believed Smith reached for a weapon under his bed.

On July 1, 2021, Virginia passed a bill limiting the use of the so-called "gay panic" defense, in which a defendant accused of homicide could receive lesser sentences by saying they panicked after finding out. The new legislation did not apply to this case, as it was enacted after the incident, though Turk argued it likely would not have altered the outcome of the trial.

During a police search of the apartment, a knife was found between Smith's mattress and box spring, but Etute testified he never saw the knife, and he did not mention any concerns for his own safety during his initial police interview on June 2, 2021.

The man testified that he stomped on Smith's face as he left the apartment and left a bloody shoe print on Smith's cheek. The security camera footage showed the three players leaving the apartment quickly. The state's forensic detective testified that the entire attack probably took only a few seconds, and that Smith was still breathing when he left.

Smith had bones broken in his face, he had bleeding of the brain, and had teeth that were missing.

The prosecution argued in closing arguments that Etute did not remember reaching for the knife until after he was charged with murder.

The lawyer for Etute argued that he should not be found guilty of second-degree murder because there was no malice in his actions and that he should be found not guilty by reason of self-defense.

Turk ended his arguments in tears, calling Etute one of the finest young men he had ever had the experience of meeting, and noting that the entire situation came about because of Smith.

After the trial ended, Etute did not speak to reporters, but he hoped that the case would provide a lesson for people who use social media.

It should be an eye-opener for any young person using social media platforms.