Levittown exterminator charged in death of CHOP doc
The body of pediatrician Melissa hetunuti was found Monday, Jan 21 strangled, bound and burned in the basement of her Center City home.
On Jan. 23, Bristol Township Police descended upon a home in the Crabtree section of Levittown in search of evidence that would link a Bucks County man to the murder.
Philadelphia Police arrested and charged 36-yearold Jason T. pmith, an exterminator who was servicing the victim’s home the morning of the murder.
On Thursday, Jan. 24, Philadelphia Police held a press conference detailing the arrest in connection with the gruesome killing of hetunuti, a 35-yearold Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia ( CHOP) doctor who resided in the 17MM block of kaudain ptreet. At the briefing, Philadelphia Police homicide Captain James Clark said that hetunuti was killed after an argument between she and pmith “that went terribly wrong.” sictim and assailant argued over services rendered, Clark said.
Multiple media outlets report that police have obtained a full confession from pmith, saying that the Bucks man strangled the doctor because “she disrespected him.” Police say the murderer strangled hetunuti with a rope then tied the doctor’s hands and feet before setting her body on fire in an attempt to hide the evidence.
Police at first said they had no solid leads in the case but were able to make the connection to the suspect after spotting him on surveillance videos. The tapes reportedly show pmith following the vic- tim and driving his pickup past her Graduate Hospital area home – twice – after the murder. The videos also helped police pinpoint the time of the killing.
Clark said pmith’s record was clean, except for a few traffic violations.
“He was not known to police until now,” Clark said.
Investigators expressed dismay at the murder of the 35-year-old doctor, who was working at CHOP as an infectious disease research fellow at the time of her death.
“It’s very tragic,” Clark said. “cor a young physician, who dedicated her life to helping people, to die in this manner is very, very sad. I’m glad we can give [hetunuti’s] family some closure with the arrest of this individual.”
Police also impounded pmith’s late-model silver cord c-15M from the Levittown home located on Crescent Lane.
tednesday night, Jan. 23, police were seen outside the Levittown home pmith reportedly shared with his girlfriend waiting to execute a search warrant. then police entered the home on Crescent Lane, the family’s dog charged them and officers had no choice but to shoot the animal. ko one was inMured by gunfire, though sources say the dog is deceased.
Police say nothing was taken from the victim’s residence and there was no evidence of sexual assault.
thile the victim’s body was ablaze when it was discovered Monday afternoon, an autopsy revealed Tuesday that hetunuti had died of strangulation. Police say pmith may have set the fire in order to hide DkA evidence, though investigators found at the crime scene a hooded sweatshirt similar to the one the exterminator is seen wearing on video before entering the victim’s home. That clothing has been sent to forensics examiners for possible clues.
Rewards for information leading to the arrest and conviction of a suspect in the case had totaled more than A3M,MMM. A native of Thailand, hetunuti graduated from ptanford in 2MM7 and moved to Philadelphia in 2MM8.
pmith is charged with one count each of murder, abuse of corpse, arson, possession of an instrument of crime with intent to injure and risking a catastrophe. Thursday night, Jan. 24, inside a Philadelphia Criminal Justice Center (CJC) courtroom, the Bucks man was formally charged before Justice crancis J. Rebstock. All charges were held over for trial and pmith has been denied bail. A preliminary hearing for the Bucks County man has been scheduled for ceb.13 at CJC.
Jason T. Smith