Slain Doctor, Exterminator Argued Before Killing, Police Say - New York News

Slain Doctor, Exterminator Argued Before Killing, Police Say

Posted: Updated:
Police say Jason Smith, 36, OF Levittown, faces charges of murder, abuse of corpse, arson and risking catastrophe. (Courtesy: Philadelphia Police Dept.) Police say Jason Smith, 36, OF Levittown, faces charges of murder, abuse of corpse, arson and risking catastrophe. (Courtesy: Philadelphia Police Dept.)
PHILADELPHIA -

Murder charges have been filed against Jason Smith of Levittown, the suspect who police say killed a Center City doctor and then set her on fire.

Police formally announced the charges in the death of Children's Hospital of Philadelphia Dr. Melissa Ketunuti during a news conference Thursday morning at headquarters.

Smith, a 36-year-old exterminator, faces counts of murder, abuse of corpse, arson and risking catastrophe, Homicide Unit Capt. James Clark said.

Ketunuti was found tied up, strangled and set on fire in her Center City home Monday.

At 10 p.m. last night, homicide detectives, U.S. Marshals and Bristol police went to a home in Levittown and transported Smith back to Philadelphia.

Later, he gave a statement admitting to the killing, police said.

According to investigators, Smith was sub-contracted out to service Ketunuti's home for a rodent problem. They had never met before.

"During the course of him servicing her, they got into some type of argument. It went terribly wrong. At that point, he struck her while she was in the basement, knocked her down, strangled her to death and then ultimately set her body on fire," Clark said.

Police said a rope from the basement was used to commit the strangulation and also to bound the doctor. Rope similar to that was found in the house.

Police did not go into what the argument was about. They say Smith went to another exterminating job after the alleged killing.

As for why Smith set the fire, Clark said, "The only thing I can surmise is that he was trying to hide evidence or whatever DNA we may or may not be able to get."

Regarding Smith's demeanor while giving his statement, Clark said detectives told him "at some point it was solemn, but at other points it was sort of like he was in a fog," adding that he seemed "somewhat" regretful.

Surveillance video played a large role in the arrest, police said, noting that detectives scoured the neighborhood and found footage of Smith following Ketunuti to her home.

The footage showed Smith following Ketunuti about 30 seconds behind her to his scheduled appointment. His truck can also be seen going down Naudain Street twice when he leaves.

A dog-walker found Ketunuti's burning body in the basement of her home less than an hour later.

"As I said earlier, detectives did an unbelievable job. They were relentless in their search," Clark said.

Residing with Smith at his Levittown home were his girlfriend, a child, and the girlfriend's step-father.

The 36-year-old exterminator has only minor traffic offenses on his record.

Clark called the killing "very tragic," but said police are happy to be able to give Ketunuti's family -- who are traveling from Thailand to Philadelphia -- some degree of closure with an arrest.

"I mean, you have a young physician that dedicated her life to helping people," he said. "And to die in this tragic manner, it's very, very sad."

Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams issued a statement Thursday, extending thoughts and prayers to Ketunuti's family, friends and neighbors.

"I know their pain must be enormous," he said, "and I hope that today's arrest will help ease some of that pain."

Williams also commended the homicide detectives who worked tirelessly to solve this case.

"I think too often we forget to show our gratitude to these hard working men and women who are true heroes and whose main priority everyday is to bring justice to victims and their families," Williams said.

  • Local NewsMore>>

  • Arrest Made In Fatal Camden Hit And Run

    Arrest Made In Fatal Camden Hit And Run

    Thursday, July 24 2014 11:45 AM EDT2014-07-24 15:45:20 GMT
    Surveillance Footage: Camden County Police DepartmentSurveillance Footage: Camden County Police Department

    According to the Camden County Prosecutor's Office Facebook page an arrest has been made in the fatal hit and Run that took place Saturday night.

    According to the Camden County Prosecutor's Office Facebook page an arrest has been made in the fatal hit and Run that took place Saturday night.

  • CLOUDS TO SUN THURSDAY

    Thursday, July 24 2014 9:52 AM EDT2014-07-24 13:52:31 GMT

    Thursday, early clouds will lead to afternoon sun as highs today remain in the mid 80s. 

    Thursday: H-85 L-72

    Thursday, early clouds will lead to afternoon sun as highs remain in the mid 80s. We stay dry Friday with lower humidity and sunny skies. We warm back up near 90 for the weekend with unsettled weather returning by late Saturday.

    Thursday: H-85 L-72

    Friday: H-86 L-65

    This Weekend

    Saturday: H-88 L-64

    Sunday: H-91 L-73

  • Arizona inmate dies 2 hours after execution began

    Arizona inmate dies 2 hours after execution began

    A condemned murderer took nearly two hours to die and gasped for about 90 minutes during an execution in Arizona that quickly rekindled the national debate on capital punishment in the U.S.
    A condemned murderer took nearly two hours to die and gasped for about 90 minutes during an execution in Arizona that quickly rekindled the national debate on capital punishment in the U.S.
  • Local NewsLocal NewsMore>>

  • Suspect arrested in dismembered Brooklyn woman murder case

    Suspect arrested in dismembered Brooklyn woman murder case

    Thursday, July 24 2014 1:49 PM EDT2014-07-24 17:49:20 GMT
    Police say they arrested and charged a suspect in connection with the murder of a Brooklyn woman whose body parts were discovered in Bay Shore. Suffolk County homicide squad and the US Marshals NY/NJ Regional Fugitive Task Force arrested Leah Cuevas, 42, on Wednesday night. Cuevas lived on 346 Sumpter Ave. in Brooklyn, the same address as the victim, Chinelle Latoya Thompson Browne, 27. Cuevas was charged with second-degree murder and held overnight at Suffolk's Fourth Precinct.
    Police say they arrested and charged a suspect in connection with the murder of a Brooklyn woman whose body parts were discovered in Bay Shore. Suffolk County homicide squad and the US Marshals NY/NJ Regional Fugitive Task Force arrested Leah Cuevas, 42, on Wednesday night. Cuevas lived on 346 Sumpter Ave. in Brooklyn, the same address as the victim, Chinelle Latoya Thompson Browne, 27. Cuevas was charged with second-degree murder and held overnight at Suffolk's Fourth Precinct.
  • Mom: 4-Year-Old banned from doughnut shop

    Mom: 4-Year-Old banned from doughnut shop

    Thursday, July 24 2014 1:34 PM EDT2014-07-24 17:34:41 GMT
    4-year-old Justin Otero is a curious guy, but his curiosity got him into some trouble at his local Connecticut doughnut shop.
    4-year-old Justin Otero is a curious guy, but his curiosity got him into some trouble at his local Connecticut doughnut shop.
  • State ends hunt for snake in Lake Hopatcong

    State ends hunt for snake in Lake Hopatcong

    Thursday, July 24 2014 12:58 PM EDT2014-07-24 16:58:56 GMT
    Reports of a 16-foot-long exotic snake slithering around New Jersey's largest lake are apparently a suburban legend or the snake just isn't hungry.
    A 16-foot-long exotic snake reportedly slithering around New Jersey's largest lake is apparently a suburban legend. Or the snake just isn't hungry. The state has stopped looking for the reptile after scientists failed to find any evidence of it in Lake Hopatcong and traps baited with chicken were left untouched. Three unconfirmed sightings this month of a snake, perhaps an anaconda as long as 16 feet, raised concerns among visitors and swimmers.
Powered by WorldNow
Didn't find what you were looking for?
All content © Copyright 2000 - 2014 Fox Television Stations, Inc. and Worldnow. All Rights Reserved.
Privacy Policy | Terms of Service | Ad Choices