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Exterminator charged with strangling Philly doctor

Published on NewsOK Modified: January 24, 2013 at 12:07 pm •  Published: January 24, 2013
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PHILADELPHIA (AP) — A suburban exterminator has been charged with strangling a young Philadelphia doctor found bound and burned in her downtown row home, police announced Thursday.

Jason Smith, 36, was arrested Wednesday night at his home in Levittown, about 25 miles northeast of the city, homicide unit Capt. James Clark said at a news conference.

Smith was charged with murder, arson, abuse of a corpse and risking a catastrophe in the slaying of Dr. Melissa Ketunuti, 35, on Monday afternoon. He had no prior criminal record other than "minor traffic offenses," Clark said.

"She needed an exterminator, she called a certain service, he was subcontracted out," Clark said. "They got into some type of argument. It went terribly wrong."

Smith "struck her while she was in the basement, knocked her down, strangled her to death and ultimately set her body on fire" in an apparent attempt to hide evidence, Clark said. There were no signs of sexual assault and nothing was stolen from the home of the victim, whose body was bound with rope at her wrists and ankles and wrapped around her neck, police said.

Investigators said Smith, who lived with his longtime girlfriend and her young child, and Ketunuti, a second-year infectious-diseases fellow and researcher at the renowned Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, had never met before. Clark would not elaborate on the substance of the fatal argument.

"It's very tragic," he said. "You have a young physician who dedicated her life to helping people and to die in this tragic manner, it's very, very sad."

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