Luna reportedly feared losing job, hired lawyer

DiBiagio told staff he lied about prosecutor's status to protect man's family

August 18, 2004|By Stephanie Hanes | Stephanie Hanes,SUN STAFF

Shortly before his body was found in a Pennsylvania field, Assistant U.S. Attorney Jonathan P. Luna was worried about being fired and had asked an experienced former federal prosecutor to represent him in job-related legal matters, sources familiar with Luna and the prosecutor's office said.

The question of whether Luna was worried about his job is central to the investigation into his December death, law enforcement officials said. Federal agents have not ruled whether his death was murder or suicide, but have said that Luna's state of mind is an important clue to the investigation.

Luna's apparent concern about his job contrasts with public statements made by Maryland U.S. Attorney Thomas M. DiBiagio after Luna's death, when the top prosecutor denied he wanted Luna out of the office.

"His job was not in jeopardy in any respect," DiBiagio told The Sun at the time.

DiBiagio admitted to staff members in a meeting this month that he lied to the news media to protect Luna's family, according to employees in the U.S. attorney's office.

DiBiagio would not respond to questions about that meeting, and would not comment about what he told FBI investigators about Luna's job situation.

Instead, DiBiagio released a statement:

"Jonathan Luna is remembered by this office as being a wonderful colleague, and his death is a genuine loss to us all."

Luna, a well-liked prosecutor who some co-workers say was struggling at work, was found dead shortly before dawn Dec. 4, in rural Lancaster County, Pa. He had been stabbed 36 times and was facedown in a small creek, where he drowned. His blood-smeared Honda Accord was nearby, its engine running.

The 38-year-old prosecutor, married with two young sons, had disappeared as he was preparing to conclude a drug conspiracy trial in Baltimore's federal court.

Authorities quickly discarded the theory that his death was connected to that case, and they searched without success for a different angle. As investigators reviewed details of Luna's personal life for possible clues, the suicide theory emerged.

The sensitive question of whether Luna could have killed himself is at the center of a debate among investigators.

There is much evidence that does not seem to fit a suicide: Officials have said that some of Luna's wounds appear to be defensive, and that authorities found evidence of a second blood type in Luna's car.

Investigators also found blood on the Pennsylvania Turnpike toll ticket that they believe was submitted in rural Ephrata, Pa., where Luna's car left the highway on the night he died. The ticket suggested to investigators the possibility that someone other than Luna was driving the car when it entered and left the turnpike because Luna's car had an EZ Pass device, something a driver unfamiliar with the vehicle might not have known.

But there is also some precedent for suicide by stabbing - cases that often include "hesitation wounds" that barely penetrate the skin. Luna suffered from many superficial cuts, which some investigators believe may have been caused by his own pocketknife.

Authorities have determined that at the time of his death, Luna had credit card debt of about $25,000 - and that he had as many as 16 credit card accounts, some of which he held without his wife's knowledge.

And many say Luna was under extreme pressure at work, where he appeared to be on the outs with his bosses.

One lawyer, who did not want to be named for fear of reprisal, said he had heard DiBiagio say he wanted Luna "gone." A colleague of Luna's said he recommended that Luna hire a lawyer to protect his job.

Shortly thereafter, Luna sought out former federal prosecutor Andrew C. White, according to sources. When reached by telephone, White would not comment.

DiBiagio's public denials that Luna's job was in jeopardy have created some tension in the prosecutor's office.

In announcing her departure, Assistant U.S. Attorney Lisa M. Griffin wrote in an Aug. 6 e-mail to DiBiagio and other members of the staff that she was "deeply embarrassed to hear that you led the press to believe that Jonathan was not in jeopardy of losing his job. That wasn't so." The e-mail was first reported yesterday in The Washington Post.

Sun staff writer Doug Donovan contributed to this article.

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