$100,000 reward offered in Luna case

Suicide one of 3 theories in death of prosecutor, according to investigators

March 13, 2004|By Gail Gibson and Gus G. Sentementes | Gail Gibson and Gus G. Sentementes,SUN STAFF

Authorities investigating the mysterious death of Baltimore federal prosecutor Jonathan P. Luna acknowledged publicly for the first time yesterday that they are exploring whether Luna's multiple stab wounds were inflicted by him rather than a murderous attacker.

"The fact is, the task force is looking at every possible scenario," Pennsylvania State Police Capt. Steven McDaniel said at an afternoon news conference in Baltimore.

"We would be remiss if we ignored any possible basis for Mr. Luna's death."

Breaking three months of silence, Baltimore FBI officials and Pennsylvania authorities released a detailed account of Luna's travels on the night he died and asked the public for help filling in two roughly 90-minute gaps in the timeline.

Officials also announced a reward of up to $100,000 for information leading to the "resolution of the investigation" into the lawyer's death.

Luna, 38, had 36 stab wounds on his body when he was found face down in a shallow creek in rural Lancaster County, Pa., on Dec. 4. His Honda Accord was nearby with its engine running. Authorities say the cause of death was drowning.

`Frustrated and sad'

Luna's parents, Paul and Rosezella Luna, welcomed the news of the reward. But at their Columbia home yesterday, Paul Luna said he was "frustrated and sad" at the lack of leads in the investigation. He disputed the notion that his son, who was married with two young sons, would commit suicide.

"It's very hard to believe that Jonathan is going to kill himself because four days before he died, he reminded me we had a date to go to Washington, D.C., the following week" to take care of paperwork for a trip to the Philippines, Paul Luna said.

Multiple theories

When Luna's body was discovered, authorities said preliminary evidence suggested that he was killed.

But McDaniel and Kevin Perkins, special agent in charge of the Baltimore FBI office, said yesterday that investigators have not determined whether the death should be classified a homicide, a suicide or the result of a random violent act.

The question of whether Luna could have killed himself first was raised in FBI reports in January and has been the subject of internal debate within the team of investigators. The Sun first reported last month that authorities were weighing the suicide theory.

"We're fully pursuing three avenues, and we're actively pursuing all of those," Perkins said yesterday. He added that investigators did not have a leading theory: "There really isn't one that is getting more resources or more weight."

McDaniel said investigators have conducted more than 700 interviews, reviewed reams of computer data and examined more than 100 court cases related to Luna's work as an assistant U.S. attorney in Baltimore, a job he had held for the past four years.

Evidence of blood

McDaniel confirmed that investigators found evidence of Luna's blood on a Pennsylvania Turnpike toll ticket that they believed was turned in at the Reading/Lancaster exit when Luna's car left the highway the night he died.

But authorities declined yesterday to discuss any other evidence, including the discovery in January of a penknife that law enforcement sources have said appears to be the weapon that caused Luna's wounds.

Investigators also believe the pocketknife is the one that Luna regularly carried, sources have said.

The toll ticket, discovered in December, was a key piece of evidence for investigators -- and one that appears to run counter to a suicide theory.

The ticket suggested the possibility that Luna might have been wounded when his car left the highway.

It also raised the question of whether someone else was driving because Luna's Accord had an EZ Pass card, which allows drivers to enter the turnpike without taking a toll ticket -- something a driver unfamiliar with the vehicle might not have known.

Timeline created

Without elaboration, officials said yesterday that evidence in the case indicated that Luna "had contact with someone" between the time he left his office Dec. 3 and when he was found dead at 5:30 the next morning.

Luna was due in federal court in Baltimore to conclude a drug trial the day he was found dead. But investigators have found no evidence that his death was related to his work and instead have closely combed his personal life for clues.

The timeline released by officials yesterday begins at 11:38 p.m. Dec. 3, when Luna left the federal courthouse in Baltimore.

It notes a stop in Delaware, where he reportedly withdrew $200 from an automated-teller machine. Also noted is a stop at a gas station in King of Prussia, Pa., where his credit card was used to pay for gasoline.

Authorities were focused on two gaps in the timeline.

The first is between 12:57 a.m. Dec. 4, when Luna made the ATM stop in Newark, Del., and 2:37 a.m. Dec. 5, when his vehicle got on the New Jersey Turnpike at Exit 6A -- a distance that can be driven in 45 minutes.

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