U.S. concludes Luna's death still a puzzle

A year later, leads sought in case of U.S. prosecutor

Neither murder, suicide ruled out

Reconstruction of travels has perplexing 2-hour gap

December 03, 2004|By Stephanie Hanes and Gus G. Sentementes | Stephanie Hanes and Gus G. Sentementes,SUN STAFF

After a year of interviews and months of studying forensic evidence, FBI and Pennsylvania investigators said yesterday they still cannot explain the circumstances surrounding the death of federal prosecutor Jonathan P. Luna.

They have found no evidence that the lawyer "met with" anyone in the hours before his body was discovered with multiple stab wounds in a Pennsylvania field.

But they did not label Luna's death a suicide and said they are committed "to obtaining all the facts surrounding that evening and subsequent morning."

Luna's parents said they are still convinced that Luna's death was a homicide - as was indicated on the death certificate issued by the Lancaster County coroner's office last year.

"There are cases that are sometimes never solved," 83-year-old Paul Luna said yesterday. "Maybe Jonathan's case is like that."

"I don't believe it's suicide," said Rosezella Luna.

In their statement yesterday, authorities also asked again for assistance in filling in a roughly two-hour gap in a timeline they have put together of Luna's activities on the night he died.

"The time frame in question is from 12:57 a.m. to 2:47 a.m." on Dec. 4, 2003, authorities wrote.

That is the time between when investigators say Luna used his debit card at a highway rest stop ATM in Newark, Del., and when his car passed through the Delaware River Bridge toll plaza on Route 276 in Pennsylvania.

The FBI is offering a reward of up to $100,000 for "information of significant relevance" to the prosecutor'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 later that morning. His Honda Accord was nearby with its engine running. Authorities say the cause of death was drowning.

That morning, Luna was due in federal court in Baltimore to conclude a drug trial. But investigators have found no evidence that his death was related to his work, and they have focused on Luna's personal life.

Yesterday, the FBI and Pennsylvania State Police said that investigators have "addressed and covered over 1,000 leads, including neighborhood canvasses, physical searches, the review of financial and telephone records, EZ-Pass travel information and the analysis of over 10 GB of computer data."

Homicide or suicide

In the months after Luna's death, some evidence seemed to indicate a homicide, such as a Pennsylvania Turnpike toll ticket that investigators believed was turned in in rural Ephrata, Pa., when Luna's car exited the highway on the night he was killed.

The ticket seemed to suggest the possibility that someone other than Luna was driving the car because Luna's car had an EZ-Pass card, something a driver unfamiliar with the vehicle might not have known.

But authorities have also explored whether the prosecutor might have caused his own wounds. They have said the stab wounds were likely inflicted with his own pocketknife, which was found weeks later near the spot where his body had been discovered.

The former Lancaster County coroner, Dr. Barry Walp, said in the first days of the investigation that Luna had a number of shallow "prick" marks on his chest and neck in addition to several deeper, more serious stab wounds.

Although rare, there are some high-profile instances of suicides by stabbing, cases frequently marked by so-called "hesitation wounds" that barely penetrate the skin.

Although friends of Luna have said it seemed shocking that the friendly, popular prosecutor would have taken his own life, they have also said that he seemed out-of-sorts in the weeks prior to his death.

In addition to being overwhelmed at work, sources familiar with Luna and the Maryland U.S. attorney's office said, the prosecutor was worried about being fired and had asked an experienced former federal prosecutor to represent him in job-related legal matters.

At the time of the prosecutor's death, Maryland U.S. Attorney Thomas M. DiBiagio publicly denied that Luna's job had been in jeopardy. But DiBiagio later admitted to his staff that he had lied to the press to protect Lunas family.

Yesterday, DiBiagio said in a statement: "We remember Jonathan fondly and with sadness on the anniversary of his death. We are thinking of his family and hope they are working through their grief."

Parents wait for break

For the past year, Luna's elderly parents have kept a quiet vigil in their Columbia apartment, waiting for word of a break in the case.

On their dining room table sits a polished wooden case containing a folded American flag - a gift delivered several months ago by colleagues of their son.

Paul Luna said he has traveled twice over the past year with his son's widow, Angela, to visit his son's grave in Baltimore County. He said he still sees Angela Luna and his two young grandchildren a few times a month.

Angela Luna could not be reached for comment.

His voice quivering with emotion, the elder Luna described how affectionate Jonathan could be, how Jonathan always kissed him when he saw him.

"I miss him," said Luna, while sitting in his brown armchair in his living room. "That's all."

About the case

What happened: Assistant U.S. Attorney Jonathan P. Luna's body was found face down in a small creek on Dec. 4, 2003, in Lancaster County, Pa. He had been stabbed 36 times, and his blood-smeared Honda Accord was nearby with its engine running.

What's happened since: After a year-long inquiry, the FBI has found no evidence Luna met with anyone the night he died but says it is still an open investigation.

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