- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 6, 2003

BALTIMORE (AP) — Former federal prosecutor Howard Shapiro can still remember the look — a glare, really — directed at him years ago by a drug dealer who had just been sentenced to more than a decade in prison.

“You can’t spend your career dwelling on it because it would paralyze you,” said Mr. Shapiro, a former assistant U.S. attorney in the southern district of New York. “But 10 years later, you sort of think to yourself, ‘Huh, I wonder if what’s-his-face is out?’”

Authorities won’t say if Assistant U.S. Attorney Jonathan Luna’s work led to his slaying last week, but federal prosecutors and judges say intimidating stares and death threats are sometimes part of the job, and the violent criminals they’ve put in jail are never far from their thoughts.

Mr. Luna was stabbed 36 times and found dead in a Pennsylvania creek hours before two men he had been prosecuting in a heroin case pleaded guilty in the deal he had just worked out with their attorney in Baltimore.

Officials are interviewing people associated with cases he prosecuted, as well as friends and associates. A federal law enforcement official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told the Associated Press yesterday that investigators had found nothing to indicate a connection to Mr. Luna’s work.

Fred Smalkin, a senior U.S. district judge in Baltimore, compared the danger faced by judges and prosecutors to the threat of terrorism.

“There’s a constant background threat,” Judge Smalkin said. “All it takes is one out of the thousands of people that you have dealt with who decide that they want to prevent you from doing your duty.”

Some federal prosecutors downplay the danger, refusing to put themselves in the same category as police officers and other law enforcement officials in the line of fire. Stephen Sachs, a former U.S. attorney for Maryland, said he never felt threatened during his seven years as a federal prosecutor.

“It is basically pretty stupid to injure a law enforcement officer,” Mr. Sachs said. “It enrages and encourages the investigators.”

Dale Kelberman, a former assistant U.S. attorney and friend of Luna’s, said it is senseless for a criminal to kill a prosecutor “because there will always be someone else available to come after you and take up the mission.”

Some attorneys take steps to stay safe. Federal prosecutors can be deputized as U.S. marshals, allowing them to carry firearms.

Mr. Luna had an unlisted phone number, and his car registration listed the Baltimore federal courthouse as his address, according to police records.

There are no statistics for prosecutors killed or assaulted because of their jobs, but James Alan Fox, a criminal justice professor at Northeastern University, said he thinks the numbers are probably low.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas Wales was shot to death in Seattle two years ago in a murder that remains unsolved. The search for the killer has focused on at least one of the cases he prosecuted.

Federal prosecutor Larry Barcella, now in private practice, was the target of a thwarted murder-for-hire scheme by ex-CIA agent Ed Wilson, whom Mr. Barcella had helped put behind bars for selling weapons and explosives to Libya.

Mr. Luna handled several high-profile cases during his four years as a federal prosecutor in Baltimore. He prosecuted a man who plotted to burn down a home to force six Mexican men out of a neighborhood. In another case, he tried three men involved in a violent crack distribution network. All the defendants entered guilty pleas.


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