Sunday, December 28, 2014

Sources: Levittown man to be charged in doctor slaying

Crime scene investigators Wednesday night leave the Levittown home of a person of interest in the Melissa Ketunuti killing. (Photo: Mike Newall)
Crime scene investigators Wednesday night leave the Levittown home of a person of interest in the Melissa Ketunuti killing. (Photo: Mike Newall)
Story Highlights
  • Jason Smith, 36, of Crescent Lane has confessed to police.
  • Smith had an appointment at Melissa Ketunuti's home the day he attacked and killed her.
  • A surveillance video shows Smith entering Ketunuti‚Äôs home wearing a coat, leaving 50 minutes later without it.
Crime scene investigators Wednesday night leave the Levittown home of a person of interest in the Melissa Ketunuti killing. (Photo: Mike Newall) Gallery: CHOP Doctor slain, burned in Center City
Police go into CHOP physician's house Video: Police go into CHOP physician's house

Police sources say a Levittown man is being charged this morning in connection with the killing of Melissa Ketunuti, who was found this week strangled, bound, and set on fire in the basement of her Center City rowhouse.

The sources say Jason Smith, 36, of Crescent Lane has confessed to police.

Smith, who works for an extermination company, had an appointment at Ketunuti's home the day she was killed. He gave a statement that he attacked her and killed her in the home. Sources said Smith struck, then strangled Ketunuti. He set the body ablaze. She was not sexually assaulted, police have said.

Authorities are holding an 11 a.m. press conference today to announce further details.

Police say Smith was captured on surveillance footage at a coffee shop at 18th and South Streets near Ketunuti's house around the time of the slaying.

He was taken into custody about 9 p.m. last night in the Levittown home he shared with his girlfriend of six years and their daughter. The girlfriend’s parents also lived at the home. Smith has a son who does not live with him.

Police arrived as the family was watching American Idol. They searched the house and truck. They had to shoot and kill the family’s boxer, who charged at them at the scene, sources said.

Smith's computer was taken from the house. His coat was taken by police for examination.

The surveillance video shows Smith entering Ketunuti’s home wearing a coat, and gloves, and carrying a work bag. He was seen leaving about 50 minutes without a coat. Ketunuti had been running errands around the neighborhood just before the encounter with Smith.

Sources say police scoured Ketunuti’s personal records, including her phone, and found that she had an appointment with an extermination company. They traced a number to Smith’s phone.

Police sources say Smith gave a statement confessing to the crime during questioning.

Back at Smith's house, a single two-story suburban residence with a white picket fence that still displayed Christmas decorations and wire reindeer on the front lawn, investigators scoured garbage cans late Wednesday night as police helicopters hovered overhead.

Police also towed his silver Ford F-150 truck and recovered potential evidence from the vehicle. An investigator said officers were "looking for any link to her."

Neighbors said Smith was mostly quiet.

Ketunuti, 35, a pediatrician and researcher at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, was found strangled, bound by rope, and set afire Monday in the basement of her rowhouse in the 1700 block of Naudain Street. Her killing horrified neighbors on her quiet block, and set other Center City residents on edge.

This week investigators have worked around the clock retracing Ketunuti’s steps, outlining how she spent her final hours, and narrowing the time of the killing to between 10:50 a.m., when she returned home from errands, and 11:50 a.m.

Members of the Homicide Task Force collected surveillance footage from cameras at the coffee shop, drugstore, and the hospital overlooking the block where she lived, and removed evidence from her house. Investigators also returned to the crime scene Wednesday.

Ketunuti lived with her pit bull/Lab mix, Pooch. Her boyfriend, Surya Mundluru, a doctor who lives in New York, assisted police inside Ketunuti's house Tuesday.

On Wednesday Clark said the victim's family members were still in Thailand, and were "making their way" to Philadelphia.

Also Wednesday, Councilman Kenyatta Johnson announced $15,000 in private donations for a reward for the arrest and conviction of a suspect, adding to the city's $20,000 police reward.

Johnson said he was in Washington for President Obama's second inauguration when he learned about Monday's "act of evil and wickedness" in his Philadelphia district.

"She specifically made a choice to pursue her career here in the city of Philadelphia," Johnson said of Ketunuti, who was pursuing a master of science in clinical epidemiology at the University of Pennsylvania's Perelman School of Medicine.

Allison Steele, Mike Newall and Sulaiman Abdur-Rahman Inquirer Staff Writers
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