PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — An argument between an exterminator and a Center City Philadelphia doctor led to her gruesome death inside the basement of her home, police said today.
Police identified the suspect as 36-year-old Jason Smith of Levittown, Pa. Smith was charged with murder by police this morning.
Smith was taken into police custody Wednesday evening at his home in Levittown, Bucks County, and was brought to Philadelphia police headquarters. He was questioned and later charged in the death of 35-year-old Dr. Melissa Ketunuti (see related stories).
Police say that Smith confessed to the crime and sources say that Smith told investigators that he committed the crime because he felt like Ketunuti was “disrespecting” him and was making fun of him.
According to investigators, Smith arrived at the victim’s home on Naudain Street on Monday to service the home for a rodent problem.
While in the basement of the home, police say, Smith and Ketunuti became involved in an argument. During the argument, police say, Smith struck the victim and she fell to the ground. Police say Smith then strangled the victim with a rope before tying her wrists and ankles behind and then set her body on fire.
Homicide division captain James Clark says Smith then left the house and was spotted on surveillance video getting into his truck and driving along the block, twice, before driving away.
Smith’s pickup truck was confiscated as part of the investigation.
Clark said Smith was “not known to police until now.” Smith lived with his girlfriend in the Levittown home and detectives executed a search warrant at his home Wednesday night.
Smith has been charged with murder, abuse of corpse, arson, and risking a catastrophe and is being held without bail. He was arraigned via closed circuit TV on Thursday night, and a preliminary hearing is set for Feb. 13.
Ketunuti worked as a pediatrician at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.
The family of Melissa Ketunti released a statement that read:
“The family and friends of Melissa Ketunuti are devastated by this senseless act of violence that has ended the life of someone who was so loved, cherished and admired.
Melissa was a loving daughter and friend, a dedicated physician and a talented researcher. She was known by her residency and fellowship colleagues as a positive and compassionate presence. Her passion for medicine — international medicine, in particular — was an inspiration to those who worked with her.
Melissa’s friends from childhood, college, residency and elsewhere remember her many kindnesses, even during long hours, as well as her zest for life: traveling, running and spending time with friends and family.
Melissa was a source of joy to everyone in her life. Her passing has left an enormous gap in our lives, and the family requests privacy to mourn during this difficult time.”
A reward of $35,000 was being offered for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the suspect (see related story).