A Maryland businessman suspected in the presumed death of his travel companion in Aruba in August was released Tuesday evening, but prosecutors said they will seek his extradition as soon as possible.
Gary Giordano, 50, of Gaithersburg, was released before 7:30 p.m. on the order of a judge, who ruled authorities had failed to justify continuing to hold him.
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 and headed to a hotel in the center of Oranjestad. Prosecutors expect him to leave the island at the first opportunity but his immediate plans were not clear.
“Gary Giordano is happy to be out of prison, yet he is very uneasy,” his Aruban attorney, Chris Lejuez, told The Associated Press. “He still feels something could go wrong and he could be back in prison.”
Giordano, who denies any wrongdoing in the disappearance of 35-year-old Robyn Gardner, of Frederick, is free to leave the island, but prosecutors said 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 Giordano back to jail.
“The case does not end here. Mr. Giordano will remain our prime suspect,” Solicitor General Taco Stein said.
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.
“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,” Kelly Reed, Gardner’s cousin, said in a statement Tuesday. “We trust that the FBI and the Aruban authorities will continue their fervent efforts to investigate her disappearance.”
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.
The investigation has not yielded enough to draft a charge, Stein said.
"He gets to come home and Robyn doesn't,” Lianne DeLawter, a friend of Gardner, told News4’s Chris Gordon. “And where’s my friend? I understand going on a trip and losing your luggage, but not your friend.”
The case has drawn comparison 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 never was found and the prime suspect was detained for months before he was eventually released for lack of evidence.
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 Gardner 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 that 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.”
Giordano is expected to fly to New York Wednesday morning, Gordon reported.
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.