A federal prosecutor who disappeared as he was preparing to conclude a drugcase against a would-be Baltimore rap artist and another man was found beaten,stabbed and shot in rural Pennsylvania yesterday, and top federal officialsvowed to track down his killer.
There was no immediate indication that the slaying of Assistant U.S.Attorney Jonathan P. Luna was connected to this week's trial in U.S. DistrictCourt, where two Baltimore men were accused of dealing heroin from the Hampdenstudio of their upstart music label, Stash House Records.
Luna, 38, told a lawyer in the case Wednesday night that he was returningto the courthouse to prepare documents for an expected guilty plea. When Lunafailed to appear for the hearing early yesterday, authorities realized he wasmissing. By midday, officials determined it was his body and car that werediscovered about 5:30 a.m. by police in Lancaster County, Pa.
Luna's 1999 Honda Accord was found nose-down in a small creek beside awell-drilling business. His body was found lying in a field near theblood-splattered car. Law enforcement sources said Luna had been severelybeaten and repeatedly stabbed, and Pennsylvania State Police said in a newsrelease that he died as a result of stab wounds.
Lancaster County Coroner Barry D. Walp said last night that Luna also hadbeen shot. He declined to say what the cause of death was.
In Baltimore late yesterday, Maryland's chief federal prosecutor said thoseresponsible for Luna's death would be found.
"We will find out who did this, and we are dedicated to bringing thepersons responsible for this tragedy to justice," U.S. Attorney Thomas M.DiBiagio said. "That's a commitment from me. That's a commitment from everylaw enforcement officer in the state of Maryland."
DiBiagio and Jennifer Smith Love, acting special agent in charge of theFBI's Baltimore field office, called on the public for help in solving thecase during a brief news conference outside the federal courthouse in downtownBaltimore. They did not respond to reporters' questions, but urged anyone withinformation or tips to call the FBI field office at 410-265-8080.
In Lancaster County early today, more than 100 Pennsylvania State Policecadets were enroute to the crime scene to comb the area for evidence before ananticipated snowfall.
In Baltimore, investigators were working yesterday to retrace Luna's laststeps to help find answers to the key questions: Could Luna have known hisattackers, or was he abducted and attacked by strangers? How did he wind up inrural Pennsylvania, and were any stops made along the route? And was anothervehicle, serving as a getaway car, involved?
Authorities also were combing through Luna's work files to determinewhether the motive behind his killing could be found in any of the cases hewas prosecuting.
Luna joined the U.S. attorney's office in Baltimore four years ago, underthen-U.S. Attorney Lynne A. Battaglia. He had handled a range of cases, butamong his more notable was the prosecution this year of a Navy physicist whowas accused of trying to seduce a teen-age girl on the Internet, but whoclaimed that he was only engaged in online fantasy.
Late last year, Luna won convictions in a string of violent BaltimoreCounty bank robberies in a curious trial that produced its own mystery: At theend of the trial, authorities discovered that more than $36,000 in cashdisappeared somewhere between the courtroom and the government storage areaused to hold sensitive evidence during trials. That case was never solved.
This week, Luna was the lead prosecutor in the drug trial against DeonLionnel Smith, 32, and Walter Oriley Poindexter, 28, who tried to make it inthe rap music industry. The two men admitted yesterday to selling heroin fromthe recording studio of Stash House Records on West 36th Street in Hampden.They had been in federal custody since spring and remained jailed yesterday.
Late Wednesday, three days into the trial, Smith and Poindexter hadtentatively agreed to plead guilty after setbacks in the case both for thedefendants and for the government surrounding an FBI witness, Warren Grace,who had secretly recorded drug transactions with the defendants but who alsohad escaped his electronic home monitoring while helping authorities with thecase.
Poindexter agreed to plead guilty to three counts of heroin distribution,and Smith agreed to plead guilty to one count of heroin distribution and topossessing a firearm, a Ruger 9 mm pistol, during a drug transaction. Inexchange, Luna agreed to drop drug conspiracy charges against both men thatcould have meant much longer prison sentences.
Luna also agreed during a meeting late Wednesday afternoon withPoindexter's attorney, Arcangelo M. Tuminelli, that the government would nottry to introduce evidence at sentencing that Poindexter was responsible forthe fatal shooting Jan. 22, 2001, of Alvin "L" Jones, who was suspected ofburglarizing one of the group's stash houses.
Tuminelli said yesterday that he left the federal courthouse about 6 p.m.Wednesday. He said his client was eager to have the deal settled and called it"implausible" that either defendant would have wanted Luna harmed.
"These two defendants had every incentive to want to see Jonathan Luna showup here today," he said.
Tuminelli was among the last people to talk to Luna. About 9 p.m.Wednesday, the defense lawyer said, he got a call at home from Luna's cellphone. The prosecutor said he was going back to his office in the federalcourthouse to complete the paperwork for the plea deals, and he said he wouldtry to send the finished agreements by fax to the lawyers by morning.
Building records indicate that Luna was inside the U.S. court building aslate as 11:30 p.m., according to law enforcement sources.
His wife, Angela, indicated to agents that Luna was at home as late asmidnight, but then left the house, possibly after receiving a call, sourcessaid. But authorities were trying to determine whether she was accurate aboutthe time.
His body was found on a two-lane road in rural Brecknock Township, acrossthe street from a Mennonite farm and next door to the Sensening & Weaver WellDrilling business. The site was about a mile off the Pennsylvania Turnpike,and about 70 miles northeast of Baltimore.
The last murder in the area was some 40 years ago.
"It's a fluke that big city crime came out to a rural area like BrecknockTownship," local police Chief Edward W. Karcher said. "I feel bad about whathappened. It's a shame. This is just where they ended up."
In court yesterday morning, U.S. District Judge William D. Quarles Jr.first learned that the prosecutor was missing when Luna failed to appear incourt. Quarles pushed ahead with the guilty pleas as other lawyers in the caseand FBI Agent Steven Skinner tried without success to reach Luna on his cellphone and at his home.
After the brief hearing ended, FBI agents outside the courtroom immediatelystopped family members and friends of the defendants, asking to question them.Kenneth W. Ravenell, Smith's attorney, and Tuminelli both said later in theday that their clients had agreed to talk to investigators, as had others whowere in the courtroom during the week.
Both lawyers discounted the idea that Luna's killing was connected to thecase, pointing out that their clients had received good deals from theprosecutor. Quarles said he understood that investigators were looking at aconnection as one of any number of possible motives.
"Prosecutors have two sources of danger in their lives -- they are subjectto any random act of violence just like the rest of us, and they are targetsto people who have grudges against them," the judge said. "When any prosecutordies, you can't exclude either possibility."
Four years ago, a group of men awaiting federal trial on charges of runninga ruthless Northwest Baltimore drug ring were charged with using codedlanguage from prison to plot the assassinations of U.S. District Judge BensonE. Legg and assistant prosecutor Jamie M. Bennett -- a plan that was thwartedby investigators.
Before Luna's death, the most notable instance of violence connected toBaltimore's federal court came in 1983, when convicted drug lord AnthonyGrandison Sr. paid a hit man to kill two federal witnesses scheduled totestify against him. His victims, one of whom was the sister of the intendedtarget, were shot 17 times at point-blank range with a MAC-11 submachine gun.
Luna's death was felt sharply among Baltimore's legal community. Quarlesdescribed Luna as a "highly intelligent, extremely charming young man who hada very bright future in front of him." Baltimore State's Attorney Patricia C.Jessamy called Luna a "colleague and friend to many of the prosecutors in thestate's attorney's office and was known for his sharp intellect, steadfastspirit and quick wit."
U.S. District Judge Andre M. Davis, whom Luna had repeatedly tried casesbefore and looked to as a mentor, said the news of Luna's killing washeartbreaking.
"I am just devastated," Davis said. "He is a fine young man, and I had sortof taken him under my wing. ... His whole life was ahead of him, and I reallyliked him. I liked him a lot, and I saw him grow in the years he was here."
In Washington yesterday, Attorney General John Ashcroft offered thecondolences of the Justice Department. In a statement about Luna's death,Ashcroft said: "We share his family's grief and will provide any support andassistance to help them through this difficult time."
Luna's death marked the second unsolved killing of a federal prosecutor inrecent years. On Oct. 11, 2001, an assistant U.S. attorney in Seattle, Wash.,was killed when someone shot him through a window of his family's home.
Stylish and typically impeccably dressed, Luna grew up in the Bronx andattended Fordham University and the University of North Carolina law school.
Before joining the Maryland U.S. attorney's office, he had worked as anassistant district attorney in Brooklyn, N.Y., and served as a staff attorneywith the Federal Trade Commission's general counsel. He also was an associateat the Washington law firm of Arnold and Porter in 1993 and 1994.
He and his wife had two young children. They lived with his mother-in-lawin a two-story townhouse in Elkridge, on a quiet cul-de-sac.
At their home last night, family members were being interviewed by federalagents. Friends and neighbors said the death was a blow to the sense ofcommunity that Luna helped develop in the neighborhood. They recalled Luna asa doting father and husband, an avid golfer and a lover of baseball,particularly the New York Yankees.
Neighbor Rebecca Fields recalled yesterday an hourlong conversation she hadwith Luna about his profession during a holiday party last year.
"I just found it so interesting what he did, and the passion with which hetalked about his job," Fields said. "He was a one-of-a-kind type of person. Hewas one of the good ones."
Sun staff writers Gus G. Sentementes, Lynn Anderson, Allison Klein andLaura Sullivan contributed to this report.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times