Jonathan Luna

Jonathan Luna

The memo from Lancaster County’s top attorney in October was direct and unambiguous: “The coroner has no records relating to Jonathan Luna … ”  

Case closed, in other words, for LNP’s attempt to seek details about one of the most mysterious and high-profile slayings in modern Lancaster County history. Luna, a federal prosecutor from Baltimore, was found dead around daybreak in a stream by Dry Tavern Road near Denver in December 2003. He was 38. He’d been stabbed 36 times. His throat had been slit.  

And yet, federal authorities, who took over the case, eventually said Luna had taken his own life and seemed to drop the case — even after the Lancaster County coroner at the time ruled the case a homicide. That ruling has not changed.

The position of the county prosecutor’s office is that Luna’s death is a homicide, but seemingly little has been done on the investigation.  

Records discovered 

On Friday, 16 years after Luna’s death and months after denying it held records in the case, county officials found the coroner’s records.

They were in archives housed in the basement of the government building on North Queen Street.  

It's unclear how long the records had been there. John Bennawit, the county archives manager, said to his knowledge, no one had asked for them in the ten-plus years he's been there until a deputy coroner sought them Friday.

The search was apparently prompted by a Jan. 20 request for the records made by William Buckingham, a York County private detective and former police officer.

Dr. Stephen Diamantoni, the county's coroner for the past 12 years, said he was told sometime around a decade ago by a staffer — he can't recall who — that coroner records for Luna's death had been given to the FBI.

"I assumed that they were not (in county archives) based on what I was told," explaining he had no reason not to believe what he'd been told. "At the time, it didn't seem like an important issue ... We were very surprised when the file was found in the archives."

However, their discovery immediately prompted a clash over access to records deemed public by a county judge last August.   

Newly elected District Attorney Heather Adams quickly moved to ask the courts to seal the records, arguing on Tuesday that their release could hinder an ongoing investigation. LNP, in an emergency filing on Wednesday, urged the court to keep the records public. 

Before LNP had filed its response to the prosecution's motion, President Judge David Ashworth ordered the case sealed.

However, allowing the records to remain public, as they are defined in both the state Pennsylvania Right to Know Law and Coroner's Act, could reveal the first new details in more than a decade in a case that perplexed investigators and drew national attention. 

DA moves to seal 

“The District Attorney’s motion to seal Mr. Luna’s coroner records unreasonably interferes with LNP’s right to obtain coroner records as confirmed in Judge Brown’s order,” LNP said in its filing. 

In its filing, the district attorney’s office said public access could hinder the investigation. 

“... the investigation would be fundamentally impaired in that suspects in the investigation and, ultimately, the perpetrator would be alerted to the details known by the investigative team through the autopsy report,” the office said in its filing. 

But LNP said courts “are adequately equipped and authorized to protect autopsy reports from disclosure based on judicial discretion and necessity under appropriate circumstances.” 

Tom Murse, LNP’s executive editor, said: “We believe maintaining public access to these and all coroner records, as ordered by a Lancaster County judge in 2019, is critical to the community's understanding of how a federal prosecutor — a public servant — died. Our coroner at the time — an elected official paid by taxpayers — determined Jonathan Luna was killed. Federal investigators later contradicted him and suggested Mr. Luna committed suicide. Mr. Luna's family and the public deserve closure in this unsolved case, and if the coroner's records get us one small step closer to the truth, they should be unsealed.”

Seeking answers

Buckingham said he has been working on the case for several years because of his own interest.  

He said he'd been told, variously, that the FBI had the coroner records and that they'd been sealed. 

Records could shed light on a case he believes is a cover-up. He disputes the FBI's suicide theory.

"This thing is 16 years old. I would be ashamed to tell anyone that I've been working on this and that's all I had to show for it," he said. "If they really wanted it solved, it would be solved ... Justice has never been served to the victim or his family."

Another investigator and an author of a book on the case agreed.

Ed Martino, a private investigator based in Blue Ball, was initially hired by the best man at Luna’s wedding to try to find out what happened. Access to records could help, he said.

In 2007, Martino and Lancaster attorney James Clymer went to court as private citizens, arguing that the coroner at the time should conduct an inquest into Luna's death.

The attempt to force an inquest was rejected by county Judge Paul Allison. Martino also believes Luna's death is a cover-up.So does Harrisburg author Bill Keisling, who wrote "The Midnight Ride of Jonathan Luna" in 2005."The public, the family and the law require these records to be released," he said.


 

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