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Midstate Mysteries: The death of a federal prosecutor - abc27 WHTM

Midstate Mysteries: The death of federal prosecutor Jonathan Luna

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Jonathan Luna's car, courtesy: FBI Jonathan Luna's car, courtesy: FBI
Courtesy: Yardbird.com Courtesy: Yardbird.com
EPHRATA, Pa. (WHTM) -

Nearly 10 years ago, Baltimore U.S. Attorney Tom DiBiagio stood at a microphone in front of throngs of television cameras and vowed to seek justice for Jonathan Luna.

"We will find out who did this and we are dedicated to bringing the person responsible for this tragedy to justice," DiBiagio told reporters.

But all these years later, not much has changed. The final hours of Luna's life and the circumstances of his death are still shrouded in mystery.

It was December of 2003. Luna, 38, stayed late at work. He was prosecuting two suspected heroin dealers in Baltimore and was in his office crafting plea deals. Only one of them was finished when, without his glasses - which he apparently needed to drive - he abruptly left the courthouse. Also left behind on his desk: his cell phone and laptop computer.

After Luna left, with his work incomplete, he drove a mysterious path through four states: Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey and ultimately Pennsylvania. He got off the Pennsylvania Turnpike in Lancaster County near Ephrata. Investigators said there was a smudge of blood on his Turnpike ticket.

His body was discovered shortly after 5 a.m. the next morning by a worker behind Sensenig and Weaver Well Drilling in Brecknock Township.

The married father of two had been stabbed 36 times. But the cause of death, according to the coroner, was drowning. Luna was found face-down in a frigid stream.

"He was trying to run away. He was terrified," author William Keisling said.

Keisling became interested in the case years ago and penned a book, "The Midnight Ride of Jonathan Luna."

"It was a murder. It was clearly a murder. The guy had been viciously killed," Keisling said.

The Lancaster County coroner at the time agreed and ruled the case a homicide. Few people at the time questioned that ruling, given that Luna was stabbed repeatedly.

But a short time later, reports surfaced that the FBI was pressuring the coroner to change the ruling to suicide. Investigators said the weapon that inflicted the wounds was likely Luna's own penknife.

"The police reports say there was a pool of blood in the rear passenger seat. So what are they saying ... that a U.S. attorney was driving across four states stabbing himself in the back, cutting his throat?" Keisling said. "Is the Justice Department hiring insane people? It's ridiculous."

But some still believe it's not so incredible.

Luna was under investigation for the disappearance of missing money from a bank robbery case he had prosecuted about a year before his death. The reported sum of the missing cash was $36,000. You'll recall he was stabbed 36 times.

Was Luna trying to stage some sort of an attack to deflect attention about the missing money? Did he simply go too far?

From the outside, Luna's life appeared to be an example of the American dream. Raised in a poor neighborhood in the Bronx, the eloquent Luna excelled in academics and worked his way through law school in North Carolina. His wife was a doctor and they had two young sons.

But the idea that his life wasn't as perfect as his brilliant smile let on was slowly leaked to the press after his death. Rumors almost immediately began swirling about problems with work, money and his marriage.

"The guy was repeatedly lynched," Keisling said. "He was killed in this vicious manner and then he was totally destroyed of character and reputation."

Instead, Keisling after years of research believes that Luna's death was likely linked to his final trial. He said court transcripts show the case was falling apart and that Luna was clearly uncomfortable with the plea deal he left unfinished that night because it would have forgiven a suspected drug-related murder.

Keisling said the court transcripts also show that the trial had exposed the possible mishandling of a confidential FBI informant.

He believes that could be a very powerful motive for murder.

And he's not alone.

When state Representative Mark Cohen (D-Philadelphia) heard the idea that Luna's death was anything other than a vicious murder, he wrote to the Justice Department, asking for an independent investigation.

"I believe more likely than not he was killed by somebody either active in the drug trade of in the employ or somebody active in the drug trade," Cohen said. "It's just a very odd situation and it's a depressing situation. It sort of indicates that, under some limited circumstances, people can get away with things."

Cohen's request for an independent investigation was denied.

"They don't want the public to look at this," Keisling said. "Instead, they want the public to think he traveled across four states stabbing himself in the back, slitting his own throat, slashing his own hands."

In his book, Keisling writes about an interview with an undertaker who prepared Luna's body for his wake. He said the woman described a large slit across Luna's throat, defensive wounds on his hands, and knife injuries to the prosecutor's scrotum.

He also points out that Luna's car was equipped with an EZ Pass, but it was only used in the beginning of his mysterious trip that night. Why would a man with an EZ Pass start out using the device and then begin taking paper tickets?

It's all evidence that would hardly support a suicide or accidental death theory, according to Keisling.

"He deserves better than this," Keisling said somberly.

When asked about the Luna case, the FBI referred abc27 to the Pennsylvania State Police. State police declined a request for an on-camera interview regarding the investigation. They also refused to say if the case is considered a homicide. They said, however, that they don't consider the investigation to be cold.

"This, just like any unsolved case, is still given plenty of attention by investigators. We are open to any information from the public that would help the investigation," police said in an email.

Lancaster County District Attorney Craig Stedman said he considers the death of Jonathan Luna to be a homicide. The current Lancaster County coroner did not return several phone calls from abc27 regarding the case.

Tom DiBiagio, Luna's boss who vowed to seek justice 10 years ago, did not return repeated phone calls to his private law practice.

There is an FBI reward of $100,000 for information that would lead to a resolution in the case. The toll free number for tips is 1-800-332-6039.

 

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