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Probe in killing of prosecutor Luna stalls

Sun Staff

From its grim beginning in a rural Pennsylvania field five weeks ago, themystery of who killed Baltimore federal prosecutor Jonathan P. Luna has onlydeepened as initially promising leads have soured and potential evidencetroves have failed to identify a suspect.

Privately, investigators have expressed frustration that their efforts haveyet to produce a break in the high-profile case. Agents again retraced Luna'sfinal movements this week and visited a Pennsylvania Turnpike tollbooth toascertain how well workers can see into the backs of vehicles. A source closeto 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 inrecent weeks. Most significant, though authorities collected DNA and partialfingerprint evidence, they have not matched those clues to a potentialsuspect.

Authorities have been able to make only limited use of video surveillancecameras along the route that Luna traveled from Baltimore, through Delawareand toward Philadelphia, on the night he was killed, the source said. Forinstance, investigators know that Luna's bank card was used to withdraw $200at a rest stop in Newark, Del., but there is no videotape capturing thattransaction.

At the Sunoco station in King of Prussia, Pa., where Luna's credit card wasused a few hours later, there is no sign of him on the station's grainy videosurveillance tapes, the source said. Investigators are trying to determinewhether another man who can be seen on the tape could have been traveling withLuna 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 threehours after the gas station stop. Luna had been stabbed 36 times and leftfacedown in a small creek, where he drowned. His blood-smeared Honda Accordwas nearby, its engine running.

In the first weeks of the investigation, the killing drew widespread mediaattention and inspired far-reaching theories by armchair and Internetdetectives.

The 38-year-old prosecutor had disappeared as he was preparing to concludea drug conspiracy trial in U.S. District Court in Baltimore, but authoritieshave found no evidence linking the killing to Luna's work and instead haveclosely reviewed details of Luna's personal life for possible clues to explainhis mysterious death.

Over the past month, agents have pored over Luna's financial records andcomputer files, and combed through his phone logs and entries in his PalmPilot, but none of the information has pointed to a culprit in the death ofLuna, 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 commentedon the investigation since the day it began. The Baltimore FBI office, whichis conducting the investigation with state police in Pennsylvania andDelaware, 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 spokesmanfor the Baltimore field office, said yesterday. "We're still continuing towork all leads very aggressively."

One central challenge for investigators is time. Jack Levin, acriminologist at Northeastern University in Boston, said in an interviewyesterday that of the roughly 60 percent of homicides in the country that aresolved each year, most are solved within 48 hours of the crime.

After that, "the case gets colder and colder with every passing week," saidLevin, who is not directly involved in the Luna investigation.

"Here, it sounds like they've got physical evidence that sooner or latermay lead to the killer," he said. "At this point, however, often what isrequired is a stroke of luck. ... Maybe an eyewitness comes forward, or thekiller has a pang of conscience and confesses."

As the investigation continues, local authorities have been pulled in otherdirections.

In typically quiet Lancaster County, Pa., the driver of a Jeep Cherokee andfour passengers -- all younger than age 20 -- were killed when the Jeep hit asnowplow 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 treestarted a fire in their duplex home.

More recently, a newborn girl, her umbilical cord attached, was found deadin a trash barrel outside an area Amish school.

But for local law enforcement officials such as Edward Karcher, chief ofpolice in the tiny township where Luna's body was found, the Luna case remainsfresh in his mind. Although Karcher has not played a central role in theinvestigation, he said he is confident that the killer will be found.

"Some people think that just because they don't see anything in thenewspapers, the case has gone cold," Karcher said. "But [police] are workingon it. ... I think this is a very solvable case. It just takes time. It's justa matter of time."

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