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Prosecutor may have been tortured { December 6 2003 }

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Prosecutor May Have Been Tortured
Death Caused by Stab Wounds and Drowning, Pa. Coroner Says

By Paul Schwartzman and Fredrick Kunkle
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, December 6, 2003; Page A01

A federal prosecutor found stabbed and drowned in a rural Pennsylvania creek suffered numerous shallow puncture wounds described as "prick marks" on his chest, neck and head, suggesting he had been tortured, according to a coroner who examined his body.

Jonathan P. Luna, 38, an assistant U.S. attorney who left his Baltimore office at 11:20 p.m. Wednesday and was found slain six hours later in Lancaster County, Pa., also sustained several serious stab wounds, each at least four inches deep, said Barry Walp, a family physician who is the county's elected coroner.

Walp, who examined Luna's body and was present when a forensic pathologist conducted an autopsy, said Luna was still breathing when he was dumped facedown in the frigid water. In an interview yesterday, he said he believes Luna died from a combination of the stab wounds and drowning.

"He was alive when he was put in the creek," Walp said, adding that creek water was found in Luna's lungs. Referring to the numerous "prick marks," Walp said, "You would think they were perhaps after information from the guy when you see something like this, or perhaps for kicks."

A report of the autopsy by the forensic pathologist, Wayne Ross, could not be obtained yesterday, but a federal law enforcement source said Luna suffered 36 puncture wounds to his upper chest, neck and head.

Luna, a husband and father of two young boys, left his Baltimore office Wednesday night after working late to prepare legal documents for a plea bargain in a drug conspiracy case he was prosecuting. The two defendants, accused of distributing bulk amounts of heroin in the Baltimore area, had gone on trial Monday, then decided to plead guilty in a deal with the U.S. attorney's office.

At 5:30 a.m. Thursday, four hours before Luna was due in court to finalize the plea deal, his body was found in the creek alongside Dry Tavern Road in Brecknock Township, Pa., about 90 miles northeast of Baltimore. His 2003 Honda Accord was nearby, its engine idling, a large pool of blood on the rear passenger-side floor, authorities said.

While a slew of federal law enforcement agencies continued an investigation that Maryland U.S. Attorney Thomas M. DiBiagio vowed would be unrelenting, more details emerged about Luna's last hours and the scene where his body was found.

Investigators said that they had not determined the motive for Luna's killing. They also were trying to determine whether a connection existed between his death and the case he was prosecuting this week or others he had handled.

"We're pulling out all the stops to get the matter resolved," said Larry Foust, a spokesman for the FBI's Baltimore office. "We're working around-the-clock."

As for Luna's severe stab wounds, some penetrated deep enough to cause hemorrhaging on both sides of his neck, said Walp, a coroner who has a private general medical practice. The coroner said he saw no signs that Luna had been beaten, although Luna suffered a "traumatic wound" on the right side of the head, according to an affidavit filed in court by a Pennsylvania State Police investigator. The affidavit, used to obtain a warrant to examine the inside of Luna's car, does not specify whether the traumatic injury was a stab wound. Walp said Luna had not been shot.

Luna's car was a few feet from his body, its front wheels stopped on the creek's embankment. In addition to the blood on the rear floor, the affidavit states, blood was smeared on the driver's side door and the left front fender. Luna was dressed in a suit and overcoat, the affidavit said. Cell phone equipment and an unspecified amount of cash were "scattered throughout the interior of the vehicle."

Walp said, "There was a considerable amount of congealed blood, which indicates to me that he was probably lying there in that position for a period of time."

Although Luna's clothes were intact, the coroner said, his wallet was missing. In the car, Walp said, was about $30.

On his left hand, Luna wore his wedding band, said Walp, who was elected coroner two decades ago. On Luna's right hand was a ring adorned with the scales of justice.

Hours before his disappearance, Luna had reached plea agreements with the two drug defendants, Deon L. Smith, 32, and Walter O. Poindexter, 28, each of whom has been jailed for several months.

Poindexter's attorney, Arcangelo M. Tuminelli, said his client has told investigators that he had "absolutely no idea what could've happened to [Luna]. The only thing he was worried about was if he was going to get his plea."

Smith's attorney, Kenneth W. Ravenell, said his client had no involvement in the prosecutor's death. In the plea deal, Smith "had gotten what he wanted, which was a dismissal of the more serious charge" against him, Ravenell said. "It doesn't make sense for them to be involved in his murder."

Smith and Poindexter could have been sentenced to decades in prison if convicted of the charges they faced in the trial. Thursday's plea bargain hearing was conducted with another prosecutor in Luna's place.

After pleading guilty to reduced charges, the two defendants probably will be sent to prison for eight to 14 years, their attorneys said. The judge ordered them to remain jailed until their sentencings.

In an interview, Tuminelli said he last saw Luna at 6 p.m. Wednesday at the end of a meeting in which the two sides agreed to the plea deal.

Luna told Tuminelli that he would finish the paperwork for the plea bargain that evening. Luna went home to his Howard County townhouse at the end of the workday, then returned to his office, arriving shortly after 8:30 p.m., investigators said.

At 9:06 p.m., Tuminelli said, Luna called from his cell phone. Luna said that he had to go home again but that he planned to return to the office that night to complete the paperwork.

The call lasted 10 minutes, Tuminelli said. Luna said he would finish preparing the documents and fax them to Tuminelli's office that night. But when Tuminelli arrived Thursday morning, the documents had not arrived.

About 9:30 p.m. Wednesday, Luna left a voice mail on defense attorney Ravenell's cell phone, repeating that he planned to finish the plea bargain paperwork that night and would fax copies to Ravenell, as well.

Tuminelli said yesterday that he was told by a senior official in the U.S. attorney's office that Luna parked in the underground garage at the federal courthouse Wednesday night and left the garage for the last time at 11:20 p.m.

DiBiagio, the Maryland U.S. attorney, has declined to be interviewed about the slaying. His counterpart in the District, U.S. Attorney Roscoe Conklin Howard Jr., expressed sorrow for his Baltimore colleagues yesterday and said the Washington office will review its staff security, as it always does after a violent incident.

But he stressed that his office of 366 prosecutors, the nation's largest, has always taken staff security seriously because of the serious charges federal defendants face.

"We understand when we sign up for this work that we're standing between the public and individuals who mean to do the public harm," Howard said.

"We're in a tough and brutal business, and we deal with tough, brutal people."

In Baltimore, U.S. District Judge William D. Quarles Jr., who presided over Luna's last case, cried as he spoke of the prosecutor's death. "When you're older like me, it doesn't seem right that someone younger than yourself will die, especially someone of his youth and vigor and passion," he said.

Howard County police were stationed yesterday outside the Elkridge townhouse where Luna lived with his wife, their two sons, ages 10 months and 5 years, and his mother-in-law. Neighbors shoveled snow from the family's parking space in the morning, and a stream of friends brought food throughout the day. Police said the family did not want to make a statement.

Kunkle reported from Lancaster County. Staff writers Tim Craig, Jamie Stockwell, Ylan Q. Mui, Susan Levine, Carol D. Leonnig, Arthur Santana, Jerry Markon and Allan Lengel contributed to this report.

2003 The Washington Post Company

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