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Prosecutor investigating drug conspiracy slain { December 5 2003 }

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Maryland Prosecutor Is Found Slain in Pa.
Federal Official Worked Drug Cases

By Susan Levine and Allan Lengel
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, December 5, 2003; Page A01

An assistant U.S. attorney prosecuting a drug conspiracy case in Baltimore was found stabbed and dumped in an icy creek in rural Pennsylvania yesterday, a slaying that stunned his colleagues and led authorities to pledge a massive and unrelenting investigation.

Jonathan P. Luna, 38, a federal prosecutor in Baltimore for four years, had been handling the government's case against a rap singer and another man accused of distributing bulk amounts of heroin out of a music studio and other locations in and near the city. Law enforcement sources said Luna, a husband and father of two small boys, left his Howard County home Wednesday night, headed to his Baltimore office to prepare paperwork related to a plea bargain with the defendants.

Sources said he left his office for home shortly before midnight, and his wife later reported him missing.

Luna's body was discovered face down in the water shortly before dawn yesterday. It was found about 75 yards off Dry Tavern Road in Brecknock Township in Pennsylvania's Amish country, more than 100 miles northeast of his office. He had been stabbed repeatedly, sources familiar with the investigation said. His silver compact car, its engine idling, was found nearby.

Speaking to reporters from the steps of the federal courthouse in Baltimore last night, Luna's boss, U.S. Attorney Thomas M. DiBiagio, promised an all-out effort to solve the crime.

"Let there be no doubt that everyone in law enforcement -- local police, state police, United States marshals, ATF, FBI -- are united," declared DiBiagio, appearing to barely contain his anger. "We will find out who did this. And we are dedicated to bringing the persons responsible for this tragedy to justice. That's a commitment from me. That's a commitment from every law enforcement officer in the state of Maryland."

Jennifer Smith Love, the FBI's top agent in Baltimore, appealed to the public for tips in the case, saying her agency was "aggressively investigating the circumstances surrounding Jonathan's death." Love asked that tipsters call 410-265-8080.

Neither Love nor DiBiagio answered reporters' questions, and it was unclear whether authorities suspect a connection between Luna's death and this week's drug trial or other cases he had handled, many also involving drug charges. Sources said the prosecutor who worked with Luna in the trial this week was under law enforcement protection last night, as was Luna's family.

Luna, a New York native and graduate of the University of North Carolina School of Law, worked for the Federal Trade Commission and the Washington law firm of Arnold & Porter before joining the Maryland U.S. attorney's office.

"He was a wonderful, upbeat person who was supremely dedicated to his mission and to his profession," said Joseph Evans, a former prosecutor in the office. "He always was conscious of trying to both abide by the law, serve the law, and also be fair and just."

Although his body was discovered before dawn, it was not until afternoon that authorities realized that the remains were those of Luna. Colleagues in Baltimore had been worried since Luna failed to appear in court yesterday morning to complete the plea bargain in the drug trial, which began Monday.

Pennsylvania State Police had responded to the call of a possible fatal accident because no officer with the tiny Brecknock Township police force was on duty at 6 a.m. When troopers arrived, they found the car with Maryland tags near the driveway of a well drilling company. The car's nose was almost in the water. Its doors were closed and headlights out.

Eugene Sensenig, 53, is a rig operator for the well company and lives just up the road. His neighbors include a dairy farm and a small trailer park. Horse-drawn buggies used by Amish families in the area are as common as automobiles. Sensenig said he got up a little after 6, went to the kitchen to check the morning temperature and saw flashing police lights out the window. "I thought, 'What in the world is going on over there? Is somebody hurt already?' "

When he went to work about 45 minutes later, he saw the car. By late afternoon, like others in the township, he had learned that a homicide victim had been found. "It's a pity that a young man lost his life," Sensenig said.

Police said the township had not recorded a homicide in about 40 years.

In the Baltimore drug case, the plea agreement was presented yesterday morning in U.S. District Judge William Quarles Jr.'s courtroom with another federal prosecutor representing the government. Last night, Quarles noted that Luna's absence had been surprising and "entirely out of character for him. He was a reliable, punctual, responsible attorney."

Both defendants in the case pleaded guilty to distributing heroin. Deon Lionnel Smith, 32, a rap singer, and Walter Oriley Poindexter, 28, had been accused of running a violent heroin ring in two northwest Baltimore neighborhoods. Smith could face up to 27 years on heroin-distribution and gun charges, and Poindexter's maximum sentence could be 60 years for three counts of heroin distribution.

"I've heard nothing that indicates there's any connection between [Luna's] unfortunate death and this trial," Quarles said. "If you want to do something like that, connected to this case, it would certainly be before the plea agreement on the case, which is one reason this is so puzzling."

Smith's attorney, Kenneth W. Ravenell, did not return telephone calls to his office seeking a comment late yesterday.

Staff writers Paul Schwartzman and James Grimaldi in Washington, Jamie Stockwell and Tim Craig in Baltimore and Fredrick Kunkle in Brecknock Township and staff researchers Bobbye Pratt and Margot Williams contributed to this report.

2003 The Washington Post Company

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