Police widen slaying probe

Information on friends of prosecutor Luna sought

`Pursuing many different leads'

Near crime scene, agents searching for witnesses

December 07, 2003|By Gus G. Sentementes and Lynn Anderson | Gus G. Sentementes and Lynn Anderson,SUN STAFF

Investigators piecing together the mystery of why a Baltimore federal prosecutor was left stabbed and drowned in a rural Pennsylvania creek sought information yesterday about the lawyer's friends and have questioned hotel operators near the crime scene about possible suspicious activity on the night he disappeared.

Federal agents also met for about two hours yesterday with the parents of Jonathan P. Luna at their home in Columbia. The agents asked who Luna's close friends were while he lived in New York and about financial support he provided to his family.

In Lancaster County, Pa., FBI agents showed a photograph of Luna, 38, to managers of at least five hotels along U.S. 222, just off the Pennsylvania Turnpike and minutes from where Luna's battered body was discovered early Thursday.

At each stop, the agents asked the hotel managers whether they recalled any unusual activity in their parking lots that night, those interviewed said. But none of those hotel operators said they recognized the young lawyer, and none said they had outside surveillance cameras that could have captured any suspicious activity.

"We talked to our staff, and no one knows this person," Raj Patel, general manager of the Comfort Inn off U.S. 222, said of Luna yesterday. "No one has seen him here."

Last night, two Pennsylvania state police troopers returned to at least one of the hotels and asked for copies of guest register cards from Wednesday, the night Luna disappeared.

Guest register checked

Sherrie Stelter, general manger of the Black Horse Lodge and Suites in Denver, just south of the crime scene, said the troopers also asked to look at the guest register records for Thursday and Friday.

The interviews continued a broad search for clues into the death of Luna, who was stabbed 36 times.

Luna was the lead prosecutor last week in a drug conspiracy trial in U.S. District Court in Baltimore, and he disappeared after telling a lawyer in the case late Wednesday night that he was returning to the downtown courthouse to complete paperwork for an expected plea agreement.

A law enforcement official told The Sun on Friday that authorities suspect Luna's death was the result of a personal relationship that turned violent and was not a random attack or retaliation for his work as a prosecutor. The official said the case probably will be handled as a local murder prosecution in Pennsylvania.

The district attorney for Lancaster County, Donald R. Totaro, said yesterday that no conclusions had been reached about the case.

"We're pursuing many different leads right now, both in Lancaster [County] and in Baltimore," said Totaro, who said he expects to meet tomorrow with Luna's boss, Maryland U.S. Attorney Thomas M. DiBiagio, to discuss the case.

DiBiagio vowed at a news conference late Thursday that authorities would find Luna's killer, saying, "We are dedicated to bringing the persons responsible for this tragedy to justice."

Vickie E. LeDuc, a spokeswoman for DiBiagio, said yesterday that the office had no comment on the investigation.

The days before Luna's disappearance seem to have been normal. He spent Thanksgiving with his wife and two young sons at their townhouse in Elkridge with his mother-in-law and his parents, whom Luna helped to move three years ago from a low-income housing complex in the Bronx, N.Y., to a modest, two-bedroom apartment in Columbia, where he helped pay their rent.

In an interview yesterday, Paul D. Luna said that he and his son had planned a trip to New York City the weekend after Thanksgiving. But Jonathan canceled the trip, saying he had to travel to Pennsylvania on Nov. 28 for work.

The father said his son told him: "I'm sorry, Dad, I have a case. I have to go to Pennsylvania."

Drug trial

Luna was preparing for the drug conspiracy trial the Monday after Thanksgiving in U.S. District Court. The case involved two Baltimore men accused of selling heroin from their Hampden recording studio, Stash House Records, and one of the government's key cooperating witnesses apparently was being detained at a facility near Philadelphia, defense attorney Arcangelo M. Tuminelli said yesterday.

Questions remained about what would have drawn Luna to Pennsylvania less than a week later, on a night when he had told Tuminelli and his wife that he was returning to the federal courthouse from his home to complete plea documents in the case.

Building records show that Luna was at the courthouse about 11:30 p.m., and that he had parked his Honda Accord in the building's tightly secured garage.

When the car was found the next morning, idling near Luna's body in a field, investigators found blood on the driver's-side door and fender, a large pool of blood on the floor and cash scattered inside the vehicle.

As they work to establish a chronology for Luna after he left the courthouse, authorities are reviewing withdrawals from Luna's bank account made at automated teller machines.

In Pennsylvania, authorities were trying to determine what stops he might have made in the area.

"Certainly there would be a canvass as broadly as we could take it, including hotels and convenience stores, just on the chance that the individual might have been there," Totaro said.

The agents who visited Luna's parents yesterday said they had no solid leads in the case.

"I believe the entire family will have closure once the criminals are caught," said David Luna, 40, Jonathan Luna's older brother. "This is a scar that will remain with us the rest of our lives."

Sun staff writer Gail Gibson contributed to this article.

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