Search uncovers Luna's penknife

Federal prosecutor, 38, was likely stabbed with it, investigators believe

February 13, 2004|By Gail Gibson | Gail Gibson,SUN STAFF

Authorities probing the mysterious death of Baltimore federal prosecutor Jonathan P. Luna now think the young lawyer likely suffered from stab wounds inflicted with his own pocketknife and are re-examining financial records that may shed more light on the final months of Luna's life.

In a recent recanvassing of the rural Pennsylvania field where Luna's body was found, investigators found a penknife that they believe caused his wounds, according to two federal law enforcement sources. They also said that investigators believe the pocketknife is the one that Luna regularly carried.

Luna was stabbed 36 times and found Dec. 4 facedown in a shallow creek in rural Lancaster County, Pa., where authorities said he drowned. His Honda Accord was nearby, its engine running.

It was not known yesterday whether authorities found fingerprints or blood on the knife, or why the weapon was not discovered during an extensive search of the scene on the day Luna was found.

The discovery of the knife comes as investigators also have sought help analyzing medical and psychological evidence from a well-regarded military forensics unit as they struggle with a new, competing theory about one of the most basic questions in the case: whether Luna was the victim of a homicide or suicide.

In FBI reports over the past month, authorities have raised the possibility that Luna, 38, could have killed himself, according to three law enforcement sources who spoke with The Sun on condition of anonymity. The controversial theory has met sharp skepticism internally, however, by a number of investigators who maintain that the evidence points to homicide.

Officials with the FBI's Baltimore field office, which has headed the investigation, have declined to comment on any of the theories that authorities are pursuing to solve the mystery of Luna's death.

"All I can say is the investigation continues," said Special Agent Barry Maddox, a spokesman for the office.

Luna's boss, Maryland U.S. Attorney Thomas M. DiBiagio, has not commented on the investigation since the night that it began, when he said preliminary evidence suggested Luna had been murdered. Vickie E. LeDuc, a spokeswoman for the prosecutor's office, also declined to comment, as has Luna's family.

The energetic and well-liked young prosecutor, who was married and had two young sons, was due in federal court in downtown Baltimore to conclude a drug case on the day that he was found dead. But investigators found no evidence that his death was related to his work, and instead have closely combed Luna's personal life for clues.

Loan application

In recent days, investigators have again turned their attention to the unsolved disappearance of about $36,000 introduced as evidence in a bank robbery trial that Luna prosecuted in September 2002. Authorities have not linked the missing cash to Luna or to his death, but investigators now are examining a loan application that Luna filled out online about the time of the trial.

The loan application was for about $30,000, and it was canceled not long after the period when the evidence money was discovered missing, according to a federal law enforcement source. Authorities have determined that at the time of his death, Luna had credit card debts of about $25,000 -- and that he had as many as 16 credit card accounts, some that he held without his wife's knowledge.

In addition to financial troubles, Luna also had felt that he was on the outs with his supervisors in the U.S. attorney's office, where he had worked for four years. Several legal sources have said that Luna was concerned he might have to change jobs. DiBiagio has rejected any suggestion that Luna was at risk of being fired.

The highly sensitive question of whether Luna could have killed himself is at the center of a debate among investigators about the direction of the case, as it stretches into a third month with no arrests. To better develop the theory, investigators have asked the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology to examine medical and psychological evidence in the case.

A spokesman for the institute referred all questions about the Luna case to the Baltimore FBI office.

Autopsy findings by the medical examiner in Lancaster County, Pa., have not been made public, and forensic pathologist Dr. Wayne K. Ross, who performed the autopsy, has refused to discuss the case. However, the county's then-coroner, Dr. Barry Walp, said in the first days of the investigation that Luna had suffered a number of shallow "prick" marks on his chest and neck in addition to several deeper, more serious stab wounds.

While rare, there are some high-profile instances of suicides by stabbing, cases frequently marked by so-called "hesitation wounds" that barely penetrate the skin. In 1999, Army officials ruled that a National Guard captain found dead at a Kentucky base with 26 stab wounds to the neck and chest was a suicide, a finding that was disputed by the soldier's family.

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