Wrangling Over Evidence As Exterminator’s Murder Trial Begins in Philadelphia

By Steve Tawa

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — A jury has heard opening statements, and now testimony is underway in the murder trial of a Levittown, Pa. man charged with the 2013 strangulation of a doctor in her center city Philadelphia home.

Before the jury was seated, Judge Sandy Byrd denied a defense motion to suppress statements that the defendant, 37-year-old Jason Smith, gave to police — first, a so-called “blurt out” to the Fugitive Strike Force when he was arrested, that the victim “was alive when I left her home,” and, second, a confession to detectives when he was brought to the police department’s homicide unit.

Defense lawyer Michael Farrell also sought to have 13 of 62 crime scene photos barred from the jury’s view, most of which depict the victim.

Melissa Ketunuti, 35, a pediatrician at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, was strangled and her body then set on fire in the basement of her home on Naudain Street, where Smith had been dispatched by an exterminating company.

Assistant DA Jennifer Selber told the judge that many photos needed to be shown to the jury to support the many charges beyond murder, such as arson and abuse of corpse.

The judge ruled that five of the disputed photos were “relevant and necessary.”

After dealing with the pretrial motions, the jury filed in, Smith pleaded not guilty to all charges, and opening statements began.

Stay tuned to KYW Newsradio 1060 for updates on this story throughout the trial.

 

 

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