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Originally published Wednesday, April 10, 2013 at 12:01 PM

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Police: Philly doc pleaded for life during attack

A city pediatrician pleaded for her life as she was strangled in the basement of her home in January by an exterminator she had met only about an hour before, police said Wednesday.

The Associated Press

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PHILADELPHIA —

A city pediatrician pleaded for her life as she was strangled in the basement of her home in January by an exterminator she had met only about an hour before, police said Wednesday.

The account of the young doctor's final moments came at a preliminary hearing for 37-year-old suspect Jason Smith, who reportedly told investigators that the slaying was the result of a petty argument and that he "freaked out" afterward.

"I'm sorry. I just wish that I could take it all back," Smith said in a statement to police. "Since that day, I keep waking up and thinking it was all a bad dream."

A detective read the newly released account in municipal court, after which a judge ordered Smith to stand trial on charges including murder and arson.

According to Smith, he violently attacked Melissa Ketunuti on Jan. 21 after she allegedly criticized his efforts to get rid of mice in her downtown Philadelphia rowhouse.

"She said that I shouldn't be an exterminator, that I didn't know what I was doing. ... I grabbed her by the neck and started choking her," Smith told officers.

He said Ketunuti, 35, begged him to let go. "Please stop, please stop. I'm sorry. I'll do whatever you want," she pleaded, according to the statement.

Smith said he released her when he realized there was blood on the ground. He told police he then tied up Ketunuti with ropes he found in the basement and set fire to a box near her body in an effort to destroy evidence.

When police pressed him on what evidence he wanted to destroy, Smith faltered.

"I don't know, footprints, handprints. I just freaked ... out," he told them, using an expletive.

Smith then fled the property, though surveillance video from nearby businesses showed him driving by the house several times after the killing. The video helped lead to his arrest a few days later at his Levittown home.

Smith's lawyer did not immediately return a request for comment.

Ketunuti was a well-regarded researcher at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.

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