US man leaves Aruba jail in missing tourist case
Wednesday, November 30, 2011
ORANJESTAD, Aruba (AP) — A U.S. businessman was released from jail in Aruba on Tuesday and free to leave the island, although prosecutors continue to try to put him back behind bars as a suspect in the disappearance of his traveling companion.
Gary Giordano left prison in an SUV with his lawyers, entering the vehicle behind a concrete wall so he was hidden from journalists waiting outside. He made no statements as he drove off, followed by a caravan of reporters, his immediate destination unclear. It was too late to catch a direct commercial flight back to the U.S.
Giordano, who denies any wrongdoing in the disappearance of Robyn Gardner, was freed after nearly four months in custody under a court order issued by a judge who ruled prosecutors didn’t have enough evidence to justifiy holding him longer.
Prosecutors say they are still trying to build a case against him and will seek his extradition if an appeal’s court ruling expected Wednesday issues a reversal and orders the 50-year-old businessman back to jail.
“The case does not end here. Mr. Giordano will remain our prime suspect,” said Solicitor General Taco Stein.
Giordano has been a suspect since Aug. 5, three days after reporting to police that Gardner was apparently pulled out to sea while they were snorkeling off the southern tip of the island.
Her body has never been found despite extensive searches, leaving investigators with only a circumstantial case that a crime was even committed.
Aruban law allows for pretrial detention while authorities investigate a crime, but it is subject to a judge’s review and the threshold of evidence necessary to hold someone increases as times goes on. A judge ruled last week that prosecutors had not met the requirement and ordered release for Giordano, of Gaithersburg, Maryland.
Prosecutors have appealed but the hearing on their request is not scheduled until Wednesday.
“The investigation must have yielded enough evidence to draft a charge,” Stein said. “And we are not in that position yet.”
The case has been compared to that of Natalee Holloway, who disappeared on Aruba in May 2005 on the last night of her high school graduation trip to the island. Her body was also never found and the prime suspect was detained for months before he was eventually released for lack of evidence.
Kelly Reed, a cousin of Gardner’s, said the family hopes attention to the case will generate a lead that will help investigators resolve the case.
“Needless to say, our family is very disappointed that even after all this time, we are no closer to finding out what happened to our Robyn,” Reed said in a statement. “We trust that the FBI and the Aruban authorities will continue their fervent efforts to investigate her disappearance.”
Giordano, the divorced owner of an employment services company, first drew suspicion with what investigators felt were inconsistencies in his account of Gardner’s disappearance. Later, they learned he had taken out a $1.5 million accidental death policy on her, which Stein said was viewed as a possible motive.
Gardner’s friends and family also had serious doubts about her disappearance, saying it was unlikely the 35-year-old woman from Frederick, Maryland, would have gone snorkeling in the first place.
Giordano’s lawyers have said there is no evidence he committed any crime.
His American lawyer, Jose Baez, said in a statement the defense team was grateful for the judge’s ruling and that Giordano was “excited to return home to his family in the United States.”
Chris Lejuez, Giordano’s Aruban defense lawyer, said they were still trying to work out when he would be released Tuesday and it might not be possible for him to leave Aruba until Wednesday.
Once back in the U.S., he would be free to file a claim to redeem the American Express travel insurance policy he took out on Gardner.
An American Express spokeswoman, Gail Wasserman, said she could not confirm that Giordano has such a policy but said anyone making such a claim would have to produce documentation such as a death certificate and any police reports. “Then we would make a determination if the claim is payable.”
No claim would be paid if it turned out there was fraud or “anything untoward” that would void the policy, she said.
Stein said authorities have been conducting active searches for Gardner’s body and last week sent divers and underwater robots to search in the area where Giordano reported her missing. They are also awaiting additional forensic evidence, including an FBI analysis of Giordano’s Blackberry.
Investigators do not believe Giordano’s account of Gardner being pulled out to sea, based on weather conditions and a re-enactment.
“We know he has been lying about what happened ... We know his story is not true,” Stein said.