The Honda Accord’s tire bit deeply into the soft earth of the stream bank. Two years later, the indentation is still visible.
There’s a large rock in the stream bed, several feet below the bank. Water diverted by the rock flows a few inches deep on the north side of the creek.
Just below the tire mark, a trickle of water seeps by.
Jonathan Luna, age 38, was found there two years ago, curled up near the rock. Above his body, his Honda was still idling, perched precariously over the bank.
Blood was smeared over the driver’s side. A pool of blood was found in the rear passenger-side floor. Loose $20, $10 and $1 bills were scattered around the interior.
Stabbed 36 times, the federal prosecutor from Baltimore died, the Lancaster County coroner ruled, of drowning.
Two months later, investigators would report finding the probable weapon — Luna’s penknife — near that rock, where some 100 state police cadets, aided by FBI agents and U.S. marshals, had conducted a search at the time the body was found.
In the immediate aftermath of Dec. 4, 2003, the news was full of promises from federal agents and the U.S. attorney in Baltimore that they would find Jonathan Luna’s killer.
Two years after Luna left the federal courthouse in Baltimore, only to be found in that Brecknock Township creek, there’s not much talk from the feds about killers.
Instead, anonymous federal sources tell reporters in Washington, D.C., and Baltimore that Luna probably committed suicide.
In Lancaster County, not many agree.
The coroner, Dr. G. Gary Kirchner, was asked by the FBI to change the ruling on manner of death to suicide.
He declined, and said last week that he stands by the conclusions of the autopsy: Homicide.
Luna’s friends are agitating for congressional hearings into his death. A Harrisburg man who wrote a book on the case, William Keisling, is angry that so many racial stereotypes have been invoked by the information leaks.
“If a [white] cop or a white prosecutor goes down,” Keisling said, “you don’t accuse him of stealing money.”
There are too many unanswered questions, one law enforcement source said, to be comfortable classifying Luna as a suicide yet.
Did Luna stab himself 36 times before falling into the creek?
Why did he leave his glasses — which his friends insist he needed to drive — and his cell phone on his desk in Baltimore?
Why didn’t he finish a plea agreement in the case he was prosecuting before he left the courthouse at 11:38 p.m.?
Why was there an hour and a half gap in his strange odyssey from Baltimore to Brecknock Township, via Delaware, New Jersey and Philadelphia?
Why was his EZPass used on Interstate 95 into Delaware, but not on the New Jersey and Pennsylvania turnpikes?
Why was there a spot of Luna’s blood on the Pennsylvania Turnpike ticket handed in at Exit 286, the Reading/Lancaster interchange?
Why did Luna end up at Sensenig & Weaver Well Drilling, where he was found at 5:30 a.m. Dec. 4?
Why hasn’t the FBI responded to the county coroner’s offer of an inquest into Luna’s death?
Of the many unanswered questions, the biggest one may be: Why do federal investigators think Luna killed himself?
And of all the questions, that one now is least likely to be answered.
Brecknock Township police referred questions to the state police and FBI. State police spokesman Jack Lewis deferred to the FBI.
An FBI spokeswoman, Carla McIntosh, declined comment on an “ongoing investigation,” except to say the agency is still considering the possibilities of murder, random violence and suicide.
Yet in recent weeks, unnamed federal sources have told The Washington Post and The Baltimore Sun that Luna was facing a polygraph test connected to the disappearance of $36,000 from a bank robbery case he had prosecuted. The sources said Luna “came into” more than $10,000 soon before he died.
The Sun, again citing federal sources, said Luna did not “appear to suffer substantial defense wounds on his hands that would be typical of a man trying to fight off an attacker.”
One local law enforcer thinks those disclosures are clearly “planned leaks.”
Those federal sources have proposed again that Luna might have killed himself, or that he might have staged a kidnapping to make himself appear a victim, but miscalculated and stabbed himself too deeply.
The suicide theories follow a string of revelations earlier in the investigation that Luna’s name had turned up on an Internet dating site, that he had $25,000 in credit card debt, that he had a charge card his wife Angela didn’t know about, that he was on the verge of being fired.
Some of the earliest stories included assertions that the area where Luna died was a trysting place for homosexuals, which dumbfounded both local authorities and Brecknock Township residents.
At one point the FBI zeroed in on another agent, a woman, who was said to be friendly with Luna. Last month, the Office of Inspector General in the Department of Justice said in a report obtained by the Sun that the FBI disciplinary process should have been invoked to probe improprieties in the questioning of the female agent.
Ed Martino, a private investigator based in Blue Ball, scoffs at reports that Luna was dirty.
Martino has been hired by the best man at Luna’s wedding, Danny Rivera, and by another client he said he can’t name to try to find what happened.
In six months of checking out Luna’s background, Martino said, he has not been able to link Luna to any bad behavior.
“They used to call it disinformation,” Martino said. “They call it spin today.
“... For the FBI or anyone in government to trash this man was absolutely irresponsible.”
Rivera, a sanitation worker in New York City who knew Luna for 20 years, said it’s preposterous to think Luna would throw away his career, wife and two young children by taking money or trolling for sex on the Internet.
“If he was,” Rivera said, “I would have said it.”
He and “Joey” Luna grew up in the projects in the South Bronx, in the shadow of Yankee Stadium.
“It was not a picnic, growing up,” Rivera said. Luna worked hard to get ahead in life, and he pushed Rivera and his older brother John to do the same.
Rivera phoned the Luna house in Howard County, Md., when he heard about the death two years ago. An FBI agent answered the phone, Rivera said, and Rivera supplied the agent his name, phone number and the information that he and Luna were long-time friends.
No one from the FBI ever contacted Rivera.
“How thorough an investigation are you doing?” he wondered.
Keisling said he didn’t have any preconceptions about Luna as a person when he began researching his 2005 book, “The Midnight Ride of Jonathan Luna.” But what he found, he said was that “this was just a guy of great integrity.”
“No way in the world would he have committed suicide,” Rivera said. “... It’s just obvious they’re trying to cover it up."
Suicide theories haven’t convinced investigators here, either.
Lancaster County District Attorney Don Totaro said that from his point of view, “this remains an open investigation.”
Although there was early talk about the FBI handing off jurisdiction to county authorities, Luna’s death remains a joint federal, state and local investigation.
Local law enforcement suspects if Luna was killed, the motive is work-related.
Kirchner, who took office as coroner in January 2004, confirmed reports that he was approached by FBI agents and asked to change the ruling of his predecessor, veteran coroner Dr. Barry Walp, and the county’s forensic pathologist, Dr. Wayne Ross, who had determined that Luna died by homicide.
But Kirchner said he agrees with the findings and won’t change the conclusion of the autopsy report.
At one point, he said, he wrote an official letter to the FBI, offering to convene a coroner’s inquest — similar to a preliminary hearing in a criminal case — at which federal agents could present open-court testimony on why they think Luna committed suicide.
No one ever responded to the letter, Kirchner said.
One of the theories put forward by federal sources has been that Luna’s stab wounds — some of which reportedly were shallow — were “hesitation” wounds, in which a suicide works up the nerve for a fatal blow.
While Kirchner wouldn’t go into detail about the findings of the autopsy, he rejected the hesitation-wound idea.
There were multiple wounds, he said, and “none of them point to suicide.”
Walp, who retired at the end of 2003, had been quoted in national media as saying one of the wounds penetrated nearly through the neck.
Keisling, the author, wondered how that squares with the recently advanced theory that Luna wasn’t trying to kill himself but accidentally nicked a major blood vessel.
“It’s just not a suicide,” Kirchner said.
The long way around
Which is what the workers at Sensenig & Weaver Well Drilling think, too.
Suicide? “It frustrates us, because we just don’t believe that,” an owner of the company, Ron Weaver, said last week.
The question of why Luna ended up at the Brecknock Township company is one of the more baffling puzzles.
It would have taken Luna about two hours to drive directly to the area. But he left the federal courthouse in Baltimore at 11:38 p.m. on Dec. 3 and headed northeast on Interstate 95, using his EZPass transponder to pay tolls at three interchanges.
When he crossed into Delaware, though, it was the last time he used the EZPass.
At 12:57 a.m., he stopped at the JFK Plaza service center near Newark, Del., and someone — security cameras apparently did not record the transaction clearly — used an ATM to withdraw $200 from his bank account.
About 2:37 a.m., Luna entered the New Jersey Turnpike from Route 130 outside of Trenton — a trip that would have normally taken about 45 minutes.
That gap remains unexplained and continues to trouble local law enforcement.
Keisling speculates that Luna’s Honda traveled on Route 130, a less-used road that skirts the Delaware River.
At 2:47 a.m., the 2003 Honda crossed the Delaware toll bridge to the Pennsylvania Turnpike. Luna’s debit card was used to buy gas at the King of Prussia service plaza at 3:20 a.m. Again, security cameras failed to record the transaction clearly.
By 4:04 a.m., Luna’s Honda was exiting the Turnpike at the Reading-Lancaster interchange. The toll ticket had a spot of Luna’s blood on it, suggesting that he was already injured.
Investigators aren’t sure how or why the silver Honda ended up at Sensenig & Weaver. There are at least two possible routes from the Turnpike tolls, neither of them easy to navigate, especially at night.
Two years ago, the parking lot at the firm was a stone surface. Tire marks led from the back diagonally toward the stream, indicating the Honda had been parked at the rear of the property.
An employee, Daniel Gehman, arrived about 5 a.m. but didn’t notice the Honda until he saw a faint red glow near the creek around 5:30.
He found the Honda with its front end over the stream. It was still running, although the lights were off — the red glow was from a dashboard indicator.
Blood was smeared over the driver’s door and the front left of the car, looking like a handprint.
Luna was face-down in the stream, underneath the car engine. He was wearing a suit and black overcoat, with his court ID around his neck.
A pool of blood was found on the rear seat floor.
Although he had 36 knife wounds in the chest and neck — and a head injury, according to a police affidavit seeking a search warrant for the car — there was water in his lungs, Walp found.
Recollections differ on how high the water was that day. In his book, Keisling quotes Brecknock Township Police Chief Ed Karcher saying the water was higher in December 2003 than it was a year later. But Weaver remembers the water level actually being a little lower in 2003 than it is now — at the point where Luna was found, barely deep enough to cover a wader’s shoes.
There have been plenty of what Keisling terms “spurious” reports about the case.
Multiple sources have been told that Luna’s EZPass was found on the berm at the Reading-Lancaster Turnpike interchange, near the entrance ramps. But a law enforcement source said that EZPass was found to belong to someone else apparently unconnected to the case.
Early assertions that Luna paid for two tanks of gas at King of Prussia, and that a second blood type was detected in the Honda, haven’t panned out.
In March, authorities said at a press conference that Luna apparently “had contact with someone” on his journey. A year later, the FBI said in a statement that no evidence had been found to support that.
On Dec. 4, 2003, with a snowstorm threatening, FBI agents enlisted more than 100 cadets from the state police academy to help in a grid search — sectioning off the scene and combing each part of the grid.
Route 897 was shut down. A helicopter circled. Floodlights illuminated the area.
In February 2004 authorities announced they had “recently” found a knife in the stream near the rock where Luna’s body was discovered. The knife was identified as Luna’s penknife; investigators said it probably was the weapon that inflicted the 36 wounds.
If no one can figure out why Luna wound up in Brecknock Township, neither can they decide why he left the Baltimore federal courthouse.
Luna had just finished the third day of trial for Deon Lionnel Smith and Walter O. Poindexter, who were accused of selling the “911” brand of heroin in Baltimore.
Smith ran a fledgling rap music label. Poindexter also faced charges of killing a man believed to have stolen from Poindexter’s “stash house.”
Early news reports after Luna’s body was found noted that a plea agreement had been reached, so there wasn’t any motive apparent in that case.
Yet the situation, as Keisling outlines in his book with extensive quotations from trial transcripts and court papers, wasn’t quite that simple.
The chief witness, Warren Grace, was a convicted heroin dealer working as a paid FBI informant.
Grace had broken the conditions of the confidential informant program by slipping out of his electronic monitoring device, leaving his house, firing at least one shot in his neighborhood and having heroin unrelated to the Smith-Poindexter case in his SUV, according to court documents that Keisling cites.
When the information began to come out during the trial, defense attorneys argued that Luna had failed to disclose potentially exculpatory evidence to them, as required by the Brady and Giglio court precedents.
On the third day of the trial, Dec. 3, federal District Judge William D. Quarles Jr. agreed to allow the defense to examine Grace’s conduct in court.
Over the lunch break, Luna offered a plea bargain to the defense.
Poindexter’s lawyer, though, wanted the deal to cover the homicide of Alvin Jones as well — legally problematic because the killing was clearly drug-related, Keisling argues.
Luna worked late into the night to finish the plea agreements. He had completed Smith’s but was still working on Poindexter’s when his car was clocked leaving the courthouse parking garage at 11:38 p.m.
He left his cell phone and his glasses on his desk. Luna’s friends say he needed the glasses to drive.
Earlier, he had called the defense attorneys and had promised one that he would fax over the plea deal that night.
The fax never arrived. And Luna never arrived in court at 9:30 a.m. the next day for the end of the trial.
Another assistant U.S. attorney, Keisling said, finished the plea deal for Poindexter, and the agreements were accepted the same day by Quarles.
Keisling argues in his book that it was highly irregular for prosecutors to finish the pleas with Luna missing; the court transcript indicates FBI agents and the U.S. attorney’s office had been trying to track Luna that morning.
Smith, facing 27 years in jail, was sentenced in March 2004 to 110 months. He is in a federal minimum-security prison in Morgantown, W.Va.
Poindexter, facing 60 years and sentenced to 168 months, is at a medium-security prison in Cumberland, Md.
Before and during the trial, Grace had been held in a federal detention center in Philadelphia. News accounts after Luna’s death said his EZPass records showed several trips to Philadelphia in the months before he died, but a federal source was quoted in one story as saying Luna had no court business in Philadelphia.
‘Something very strange’
What happened to Jonathan Luna, and why?
Keisling thinks the death is connected to the trial, the unfinished plea agreement and an apparently out-of-control FBI informant.
And possibly to corruption, Keisling writes in the book, arguing that Luna might have been meeting someone he trusted at the Delaware service plaza.
The anonymous attempts to smear Luna’s character after his death, Keisling writes, and the emphasis on suicide all point to an effort to divert attention from the truth.
Martino, the private investigator, suspects Luna fell afoul of someone connected with the heroin trade.
There had to be at least two vehicles, he said. The fact that the pool of blood was in the rear indicates someone other than Luna was driving the Honda, with Luna possibly on the floor in the back.
“Someone had to pick up that person,” Martino said. “The question is, who was that person who picked him up?”
While it’s a twisting route to get to Sensenig & Weaver from the Turnpike interchange, the firm is eight-tenths of a mile from the toll road’s emergency access gate, east of Exit 286. A federal agent would be able to get back on the Turnpike via the access road, Martino said.
And, he added, “not every federal agent is honest — it’s that simple.”
Then there’s the $36,000 missing from the robbery case; Keisling notes the correlation of the 36 stab wounds and the $36,000.
Keisling wonders if Luna was left for dead at the back of Sensenig & Weaver’s lot, then managed to get into the driver’s seat and start the car — only to run it nearly into the creek. In that case, he might have stumbled and fallen into the stream.
Danny Rivera said Luna’s hands were covered by gloves at his funeral in Maryland.
Rivera is convinced all the revelations about Luna were a ploy.
“They just tried to ruin his reputation so no one would really care,” Rivera said. “... The general public said, ‘This guy was a jerk; he got what he deserved.’ ”
Keisling suspects a racial angle. Luna was of African-American and Filipino ancestry.
“It’s really come down to saying, ‘It was the black guy who did it,’ ” Keisling said.
Rivera pointed out that the FBI has offered a $100,000 reward for “information leading to the resolution of the investigation,” but in the unsolved case of Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas C. Wales, shot to death in Seattle in 2001, the reward is $1 million.
Angela Luna, an obstetrician, and the Lunas’ two children have moved out of the family home, friends said. They think she’s afraid.
At least one local law enforcement source is skeptical that the truth ever will be found: “It’s not going to be solved, because it’s [been] too long.”
“I’m not sure how actively it’s being pursued,” another source said.
Yet Luna’s supporters haven’t given up hope.
State Rep. Mark Cohen, D-Philadelphia, recently asked, unsuccessfully, for the Justice Department inspector general to investigate the Luna case (see related story, A6).
The next step is to push for congressional hearings.
Martino intends to ask U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter to probe Luna’s death.
“There’s something very, very wrong with this case,” Martino said. “I think we’re going to figure it out.”
‘I want the truth’
On Dec. 4, 2005, a Sunday, Danny and John Rivera made the trip from New York to Brecknock Township for a vigil to honor their friend on the second anniversary of his death.
A wooden cross, with Luna’s name and years of birth and death carved in the crossarm, stood at the snow-covered stream bank.
A wreath with a red velvet bow was laid in front of the cross, along with American flags, candles and photos.
John Rivera said that if the same thing had happened to someone else, Luna “would not stop until he got to the bottom of it.”
“I want the truth to come out,” Danny Rivera said.
“No honest investigator,” Martino said last week, “is going to say this was a suicide.”