BALTIMORE – Jonathan Luna (search) spent most of his career prosecuting criminals, but outside the courtroom he was known as a champion of the downtrodden.
In 1991, he wrote in a letter to the editor of The New York Times that he was "offended" at the title of a recent series on the Mott Haven (search) section of the Bronx where he grew up. The series was titled "Life at the Bottom."
Luna wrote that there were people in the neighborhood like his parents who were "struggling every day to make a life for themselves and their families in Mott Haven. My dad struggled in the restaurant business, while my mom stayed at home to raise my brother and me."
Luna, 38, left the Bronx and become a highly skilled attorney, landing jobs at a Washington law firm, the Federal Trade Commission (search) and most recently as a prosecutor in New York and Baltimore.
Luna, an assistant U.S. Attorney in Baltimore, was found stabbed to death Thursday in a Pennsylvania creek after failing to show up at a drug trial he was prosecuting. Police have not said if they have any suspects in his death.
Those who knew Luna said he was a dedicated lawyer who was loved by juries and colleagues alike.
U.S. District Judge William Quarles Jr., (search) who was presiding over the drug trial, called Luna a "wonderful young man, responsible, charming and highly intelligent. He had genuine trial skills as a lawyer and juries loved him."
Luna, who attended Fordham University and the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill law school, was married and had two children. He had been with the U.S. Attorney's office for four years.
Lou Bilionis, a UNC law professor who taught Luna, said he was a bright and gifted lawyer. He said Luna visited the law school recently and they had caught up.
"I was pleased as any professor to learn how well he'd done. ... He was well liked," Bilionis said. "I remember as a student he was dedicated to justice and fairness and he was the kind of lawyer and graduate that makes a bar and a law school proud."
Winston Crisp, associate dean for student services at the UNC law school, said he attended law school at the same time as Luna and was in some of the same classes with him. Luna was the class president when both of them were third-year law students, he said.
"He got along with everybody," Crisp said. "Everyone in the class, no matter who you hung out with, everybody was friendly with Jon."
After interning for the Bronx County District Attorney, Luna worked as an associate at Arnold & Porter in Washington in 1993-1994. He was one of only a handful of black attorneys at the firm — something that wasn't always easy for Luna, who was black.
"I can't say personally that there's been any overt racism here," Luna told the Legal Times in 1994. "However, black attorneys feel a little more isolated than their white counterparts."
He left the firm to become a staff attorney at the Federal Trade Commission from 1994 to 1997, before moving onto the district attorney's office in Brooklyn and then the federal prosecutor's office in Baltimore.
All the while, he remained an advocate for minorities.
In a 1995 letter published in The (Baltimore) Sun, Luna praised a column that had condemned the "racist logos of the Atlanta Braves and Cleveland Indians."
"The difference between Native Americans and African Americans or Jews is that (Native Americans) make up barely 1 percent of the U.S. population, and compared with the other two groups have virtually no political power," Luna wrote. "Should population or political clout determine the level of tolerance we are willing to give to racist imagery?"