From its grim beginning in a rural Pennsylvania field five weeks ago, the mystery of who killed Baltimore federal prosecutor Jonathan P. Luna has only deepened as initially promising leads have soured and potential evidence troves have failed to identify a suspect.
Privately, investigators have expressed frustration that their efforts have
yet to produce a break in the high-profile case. Agents again retraced Luna's
final movements this week and visited a Pennsylvania Turnpike tollbooth to
ascertain how well workers can see into the backs of vehicles. A source close
to the investigation called those steps "desperation stuff."
The source, a law enforcement official who spoke on condition of anonymity,
said there has been little clear progress and some setbacks in the case in
recent weeks. Most significant, though authorities collected DNA and partial
fingerprint evidence, they have not matched those clues to a potential
Authorities have been able to make only limited use of video surveillance
cameras along the route that Luna traveled from Baltimore, through Delaware
and toward Philadelphia, on the night he was killed, the source said. For
instance, investigators know that Luna's bank card was used to withdraw $200
at a rest stop in Newark, Del., but there is no videotape capturing that
At the Sunoco station in King of Prussia, Pa., where Luna's credit card was
used a few hours later, there is no sign of him on the station's grainy video
surveillance tapes, the source said. Investigators are trying to determine
whether another man who can be seen on the tape could have been traveling with
Luna at that point.
The well-liked and energetic lawyer was found dead shortly before dawn Dec.
4 in rural Lancaster County, Pa., about 50 miles west and less than three
hours after the gas station stop. Luna had been stabbed 36 times and left
facedown in a small creek, where he drowned. His blood-smeared Honda Accord
was nearby, its engine running.
In the first weeks of the investigation, the killing drew widespread media
attention and inspired far-reaching theories by armchair and Internet
The 38-year-old prosecutor had disappeared as he was preparing to conclude
a drug conspiracy trial in U.S. District Court in Baltimore, but authorities
have found no evidence linking the killing to Luna's work and instead have
closely reviewed details of Luna's personal life for possible clues to explain
his mysterious death.
Over the past month, agents have pored over Luna's financial records and
computer files, and combed through his phone logs and entries in his Palm
Pilot, but none of the information has pointed to a culprit in the death of
Luna, a married father with two young sons.
Publicly, authorities remain tight-lipped about the case.
Luna's boss, Maryland U.S. Attorney Thomas M. DiBiagio, has not commented
on the investigation since the day it began. The Baltimore FBI office, which
is conducting the investigation with state police in Pennsylvania and
Delaware, urges anyone with information to call investigators at 410-265-8080.
"The FBI continues working with our state, local and federal counterparts,
running out every available lead," Special Agent Barry M. Maddox, a spokesman
for the Baltimore field office, said yesterday. "We're still continuing to
work all leads very aggressively."
One central challenge for investigators is time. Jack Levin, a
criminologist at Northeastern University in Boston, said in an interview
yesterday that of the roughly 60 percent of homicides in the country that are
solved each year, most are solved within 48 hours of the crime.
After that, "the case gets colder and colder with every passing week," said
Levin, who is not directly involved in the Luna investigation.
"Here, it sounds like they've got physical evidence that sooner or later
may lead to the killer," he said. "At this point, however, often what is
required is a stroke of luck. ... Maybe an eyewitness comes forward, or the
killer has a pang of conscience and confesses."
As the investigation continues, local authorities have been pulled in other
In typically quiet Lancaster County, Pa., the driver of a Jeep Cherokee and
four passengers -- all younger than age 20 -- were killed when the Jeep hit a
snowplow head-on during a snowy weekend in mid-December. On Christmas Day,
three members of a family were killed when the lights on their Christmas tree
started a fire in their duplex home.
More recently, a newborn girl, her umbilical cord attached, was found dead
in a trash barrel outside an area Amish school.
But for local law enforcement officials such as Edward Karcher, chief of
police in the tiny township where Luna's body was found, the Luna case remains
fresh in his mind. Although Karcher has not played a central role in the
investigation, he said he is confident that the killer will be found.
"Some people think that just because they don't see anything in the
newspapers, the case has gone cold," Karcher said. "But [police] are working
on it. ... I think this is a very solvable case. It just takes time. It's just
a matter of time."
Probe in killing of prosecutor Luna stalls
5 weeks after his death, leads go cold, evidence fails to yield suspect
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