Man Released from Aruba Jail Still Suspect in Traveler’s Death

By Ben Fox and Dilma Arends | November 30, 2011

U.S. businessman Gary Giordano is getting out of jail but he isn’t in the clear. Investigators still consider him a suspect in the presumed death of his travel companion — a case seemingly bedeviled by the same lack of evidence that doomed the investigation into the disappearance of teenager Natalee Holloway.

Giordano was to be released Tuesday, Nov. 29 in the evening on the order of a judge, who ruled authorities had failed to justify continuing to hold him nearly four months since his companion, Robyn Gardner, vanished during their five-day excursion to the Dutch Caribbean island.

The prosecution appealed the order but a hearing won’t be held until today. By that time, Giordano, a 50-year-old from Gaithersburg, Maryland, is expected to either be back in the United States or en route, Solicitor General Taco Stein said.

Authorities will continue to pursue the case and can seek Giordano’s extradition back to Aruba if needed, Stein said.

“We will still be with it. It’s something we feel we need to do not only so justice is served but so the family can learn what happened to Robyn,” said Stein, the spokesman for the prosecutor’s office. “They deserve answers and we are determined to bring answers to them.”

Giordano was first detained as he tried to leave Aruba on 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 after an afternoon of drinking. Her body has never been found, and Stein said officials have only circumstantial evidence a crime was even committed.

“That wasn’t enough for the judge at this time,” he said.

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.

Aruban law allows authorities to hold someone as a suspect while they investigate an alleged crime, with a judge periodically reviewing the case. It is common for people to be held for months before being released without charge.

The system became familiar to many Americans who followed the case of Holloway, an 18-year-old from Alabama who disappeared on the final night of a high school graduation trip in May 2005. She was last seen leaving a bar with three local men, all of whom were detained and later released for lack of evidence. The chief suspect, Joran van der Sloot, is now jailed in Peru awaiting trial for allegedly murdering a Peruvian woman.

Giordano’s lawyers have said there is no evidence he committed any crime and repeatedly called for his immediate release.

His American lawyer, Jose Baez, said in a statement that the defense team was grateful for the judge’s ruling and that Giordano “is 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. The detention order against him expires at 8 p.m. Tuesday but Stein said jail officials will probably release him earlier.

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 Gardner was 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.

Associated Press writer Ben Fox reported this story from San Juan, Puerto Rico, and Dilma Arends reported from Oranjestad, Aruba

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