In the early-morning darkness of Dec. 4, 2003, a drilling company employee spotted something red glowing a short distance from his rural Pennsylvania office and swung his car around to investigate.
There, in his headlights' path, was an unoccupied silver Honda Accord with Maryland plates. It was nose down in a small creek, the engine still running. Blood was smeared on the driver's side door, a child seat visible in the back. The man called 911.
Face down in shallow water not far from the car was the body of 38-year-old Jonathan Luna, a husband, father and assistant Maryland U.S. attorney - a job that made enemies of dangerous people. It appeared, at first, that he had died of multiple stab wounds.
The discovery launched a series of events and questions that propelled the case into one of the region's most high-profile and most perplexing murder investigations. Top officials boldly promised to catch Luna's killer, and law-enforcement officers worked diligently, certain they were hunting for someone who had killed one of their own.
But the focus soon turned to Luna's personal troubles, with federal sources leaking details of the prosecutor's debts and job difficulties, along with unproven theories of affairs and stolen evidence, to media hungry for answers. Luna had become a suspect in his own death.
Over the next several years, reputations were sullied, investigations allegedly botched and Senate inquiries made. A Pennsylvania private investigator has put forth hypotheses - based on evidence he claims to have found - implicating the FBI, and book authors suggested deadly federal informants were to blame. And now, nothing.
Five years after the case was opened, it's gone cold. No one has been caught, no culprit has been identified. A spokeswoman with the federal office now in charge of the investigation, the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, wasn't even sure whether it was still overseeing the case, it had been so long since anyone inquired. She eventually confirmed that the FBI case is still open but would say no more.
The uncertainty is frustrating to those who knew Luna.
"I was fearful that he had been killed in relationship to the job, which is what everybody thought" initially, said Lynne A. Battaglia, who's now a Maryland Court of Appeals judge. She hired Luna in 1999, when she was the U.S. attorney for Maryland.
"I don't know now, I have no idea now," she said, "It will remain a mystery to me."
Many people don't want to talk about his death, preferring instead to remember his life. His wife did not respond to a letter or phone calls from The Baltimore Sun. His father, who as recently as last year tried to stir some developments in the case, declined to comment. So did the coroner who ruled the death a homicide, a view, he would only say, he still stands by.
And many of Luna's former colleagues refuse to speak publicly, their silence motivated in part by a desire to spare his family additional pain. They also hesitate to acknowledge a terrible possibility: that Luna killed himself either deliberately or accidentally, a theory raised by anonymous federal law enforcement sources who noted that the 36 stab wounds were superficial. The odd circumstances, which included cash strewn about his car, make it difficult for some to believe his life ended in suicide.
Jonathan Paul Luna - "Joey" to his friends growing up in New York - was raised in a rough section of the South Bronx, in the shadow of Yankee Stadium. His father struggled to make a living in the restaurant business, while his mother stayed home to care for their two boys, Luna wrote in a 1991 letter to the New York Times, defending his Mott Haven neighborhood as a place with "much hope and promise."
Like his parents, Luna worked hard, though he remained a friendly and affable kid, and a loyal Yankees fan. He earned an undergraduate degree from Fordham University in New York, then attended the University of North Carolina's law school, graduating in 1992.
He married his wife, Angela, in 1993, during her last year of medical school, and worked as an attorney in Washington for several years after that, first in a private firm, then with the Federal Trade Commission.
Next he returned to Brooklyn, working as an assistant district attorney, before applying for the federal prosecutor's job in Baltimore.
"He had a really vivacious personality, peppy, excited, full of vigor," Battaglia remembers. "He really wanted the job; he really wanted to be an assistant U.S. attorney."
Once hired, he and his wife moved into a home in Elkridge, where they would live with their two young children and his mother-in-law. He was well-liked in the Baltimore office, described as the sort of person who remembered details about others and frequently inquired about their families. He still sent Christmas cards to colleagues who moved on to other jobs.
But as time passed, he faltered professionally. Co-workers said he was in disfavor with Battaglia's successor, Thomas M. DiBiagio. DiBiagio publicly denied that Luna was in trouble but privately confirmed it to others in the office, according to The Sun and other news media. Fearing he was about to lose his position, Luna hired former federal prosecutor Andrew C. White for guidance and legal representation.
"We were good friends," said White, who's in private practice in Baltimore.
Luna's last case was falling apart. He was prosecuting two men accused of dealing heroin from the Hampden studio of their startup music label, Stash House Records. But the key witness in the case - Warren Grace, an FBI informant with a criminal history - wasn't playing ball. He changed his story on the stand, "throwing the case into a tailspin," according to author Ethan Brown, who included a chapter on Luna's final prosecution in his 2007 book, Snitch: Informants, Cooperators, and the Corruption of Justice.
Grace had also escaped his handlers and was found with a large amount of heroin by Baltimore police. The U.S. District Court judge overseeing the case, William D. Quarles, "upbraided" both Luna and the FBI in open court for the so-called cooperator's misdeeds, Brown wrote.
Grace's uncooperative testimony led defense attorneys to push for a plea bargain, which Luna hammered out in his federal courthouse office, late Dec. 3, 2003. He was there at 11:30 p.m., according to building records, his silver Honda parked in the nearby garage.
The puzzle pieces that FBI and police investigators put together afterward seem contradictory.
Luna left the office, his cell phone and eyeglasses still on his desk, got in his car, and drove or was driven. His body was found the next morning in the creek behind Sensenig & Weaver Well Drilling in Denver, Pa., about 100 miles from Baltimore.
"We will find who did this, and we are dedicated to bringing the persons responsible for this tragedy to justice," DeBiagio declared later that day. "That's a commitment from me. That's a commitment from every law enforcement officer in the state of Maryland."
Barry Walp, the Lancaster County, Pa., coroner, ruled the death a homicide; the official cause was drowning. Reached by telephone last week, Walp, now retired, confirmed his findings, but that's all he would say. "I don't care to talk about it anymore," he said.
Within a week, investigators began to check into possible affairs and unnamed law enforcement sources told The Sun at the time that Luna had $25,000 in credit card debt. They raised questions of whether he might have been connected to the disappearance of $36,000 in cash that had been stored as evidence in a bank robbery trial, money that is still missing. Before his death, Luna had postponed an appointment to take a polygraph test about the missing money, according to the law enforcement sources at the time.
"Any of these theories ... are all absolutely inconsistent with who Jonathan was, inconsistent with his character, inconsistent with his whole person, and I don't believe it for a second," White said in an interview last week.
But investigators were swayed enough to publicly state that the motive for the murder - if it was indeed a murder - was personal and not professional. In a February 2004 news release, the FBI defended its efforts as "intensive, thorough and far reaching" and explained the necessity of delving into victims' personal lives.
"Many investigative avenues have been and are being explored, including more than 600 leads," FBI Assistant Director Cassandra M. Chandler said in a statement.
The FBI had even investigated itself, questioning an employee they said might have had a romantic link to Luna. That avenue caused problems for the agency, which was accused of mishandling the inquiry. A Department of Justice inspector general report would later conclude that there was "credible evidence of serious misconduct" in the way the agency dealt with the internal probe.The Senate Judiciary Committee opened an investigation into the FBI's conduct, but never released findings. A call to the office of Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, the chairman of the committee, was not returned last week.
Shortly before the first anniversary of Luna's death, the Baltimore office of the FBI released a statement that Luna was alone from the time he left his office until his body was found the next morning. Some of Luna's former colleagues believed it was an unofficial way for the agency to say Luna had killed himself. Some thought it might have been suicide and others thought he might have tried to gain sympathy or buy time at work by staging an attack that went awry.
News reports claim that the FBI unsuccessfully asked Walp's successors to change the coroner's ruling from homicide to suicide.
In Snitch, Brown raises the question of whether Grace, the informant who had shown open disdain for Luna, could have played a part in the prosecutor's death.
William Keisling, a Pennsylvania writer, published a book about the case - The Midnight Ride of Jonathan Luna - based on court records through his own publishing house in 2005. In an interview last week, Keisling said more attention should have been paid to Luna's professional dealings.
"It all points back to the courthouse and the FBI office. ... What we want to do is look at this with fresh eyes and have everybody working around him examined," said Keisling, who hopes the new administration will renew the investigation. It used to bother Keisling when people suggested suicide, but not anymore. "People print this stuff, and I sell another 100 books." He said a television station is interested in Luna's story and that the rights to his book have been optioned by a movie studio, though he declined to name either.
Ed Martino, a Pennsylvania private investigator hired by a friend of the Luna family, spent months looking into Luna's death. He tried but failed to get the Lancaster County coroner's office to conduct an inquest. He too believes Luna's professional life should be the focus, especially his dealings with the FBI. He alleges the agency has shut down the case and that evidence such as Luna's car has disappeared.
"I've been at this stuff for 30 years, and I can tell you this would be an easy one," Martino said in an interview this month. "We could not only solve this crime but [root out] a lot of misfits in the FBI."
Through a spokesman, the FBI declined to comment on the case or Martino's allegations.
Many have commended, not criticized, the FBI's performance. One is Battaglia, who believes the agency "is extremely vigilant" when it comes to solving cases involving colleagues. Another is Luna's attorney and friend, Andrew White.
"I know this investigation was handled by the FBI in a professional manner," White said, acknowledging that "it's a difficult case to investigate for a whole host of reasons."
Still, Martino is hoping the government will convene a federal grand jury to examine "evidence" he says he has gathered, although he refused to discuss it. He also hopes that a Luna family member will file a lawsuit so he can call certain people in for questioning but, so far, no one has. Luna's father, Paul Luna, who lives in Columbia, asked the coroner's office last year to open an inquest but was denied.
Reached by phone earlier this month, Paul Luna said, "I don't want to talk about it anymore," before hanging up.
His sentiment was echoed throughout legal circles and the Maryland U.S. attorney's office, with former Luna colleagues declining to comment and wishing that there were some way to find peace with Luna's death, some way to know for sure what happened.
"I'm a person who likes 'yes' and 'no' answers, in the sense that I'd like to feel as though we know," Battaglia said. "The fact that it's a mystery leaves so many questions. ... I don't like it at all."
Baltimore Sun reporter Gus G. Sentementes contributed to this article.
luna timeline Dec. 3, 2003 Assistant U.S. Attorney Jonathan P. Luna heads to his federal court office to work on a plea deal in a drug case. His car leaves the garage at 11:38 p.m.; his eyeglasses and cell phone are still in the building.
Dec. 4, 2003 Luna's car and body are discovered in a creek behind a drilling company in rural Pennsylvania.
March 12, 2004 Law enforcement authorities offer a $100,000 reward for information leading to the "resolution of the investigation" into Luna's death. They also announce that they're investigating whether it's possible that Luna stabbed himself.
Dec. 2, 2004 The Baltimore FBI office releases a statement concluding that Luna was alone from the time he left his courthouse office to the time his body was found.
January 2007 Luna's father asks a Pennsylvania coroner to conduct an inquest into his son's death but is refused.
Thursday The five-year anniversary of Luna's death. No official conclusion of the circumstances has been offered by law enforcement.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times