Companion's Aruba disappearance 'will weigh heavily on me,' man says

Gary Giordano was released from jail in Aruba on Tuesday.

Story highlights

  • Giordano's "different lifestyle" is irrelevant to his guilt or innocence, his lawyer says
  • The Maryland man gives his first interview since his release from jail in Aruba
  • He denies any involvement in Robyn Gardner's August 2 disappearance
  • Giordano says he bought travel insurance, and Gardner was automatically included

An American man who was held in Aruba for nearly four months in connection with the disappearance of his traveling companion insisted Thursday he had nothing to do with her vanishing but said it will "weigh heavily on me for a very long time."

"I feel as if a person I cared about, a companion ... has disappeared on my watch," Gary Giordano said on ABC's "Good Morning America" in his first interview since being released from custody in Aruba earlier this week.

Giordano, 50, had been held in the disappearance of 35-year-old Robyn Gardner of Maryland. Giordano told authorities the two were snorkeling on August 2 when he signaled to Gardner to swim back. When he reached the beach, he told police, Gardner was nowhere to be found and has not been seen since.

"I only looked back when I hit a rock," he said, according to a transcript of a police interview obtained by CNN. "Before that, I did not look back. I was busy saving my life."

Aruban judges repeatedly granted requests to extend Giordano's detention, while the investigation continued. But last week, a judge rejected prosecutors' request to hold Giordano, of Gaithersburg, Maryland, for an additional 30 days. He was released Tuesday.

A three-judge panel of Aruban judges held a hearing Wednesday to review the decision to release Giordano, but upheld it. ABC aired a clip of an emotional Giordano learning of the decision at the airport. "I'd accepted the fact that they were going to keep me from my kids forever," he told reporters in the video.

Aruban prosecutor Taco Stein said Monday he was aware Giordano was going to return home after being freed. "If we need him again, we will seek extradition with the United States," he said.

    The unresolved case has raised a host of questions, including the nature of the relationship between Gardner and Giordano. His U.S.-based lawyer, Jose Baez, told HLN's Jane Velez-Mitchell on Thursday night that the two were both single and their personal activities -- including photographs taken by Giordano of the people that have been widely speculated about -- are irrelevant to what happened on the beach that summer day.

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    "What they do in the privacy of their own bedroom is their business, and really has nothing to do with this except scandalizing the case and trying to cast more aspersions on Gary and his lifestyle," Baez said.

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    The attorney said that the couple were "not exclusive." Responding to a question about whether Giordano was a swinger, Baez said, "Gary has a different lifestyle than perhaps you and I."

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    "These were things that the this couple did, and they did not only with each other but with other individuals," the lawyer added, referring to what transpired involving Giordano and Gardner before she went missing.

    In his own interview Thursday with ABC, Giordano -- flanked, at the time, by Baez -- disputed allegations he and Gardner had been drinking and that he took her to a "remote location."

    "We were a sober couple," he said. "... We were 100 yards from a scuba diving store." The two were in view of other people at Baby Beach the day Gardner disappeared, he said.

    While Giordano answered specific questions -- at one point saying, "Here, I'll just interview myself" -- he refused to give an entire account of that day, saying, "I'm not going to sit here and answer something I've answered repeatedly."

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    But he said he was not hurriedly attempting to escape from Aruba when he was detained at the airport August 5. He said following Gardner's disappearance, he met with her mother and with a U.S. Embassy representative. Both told him that he should go ahead and return to the United States on his scheduled flight, he said, and police said he was free to go. He said he was running through the airport to catch the last flight home, as the airport was closing because of a tropical storm passing north of the island.

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    Asked about a surveillance video showing him just after Gardner disappeared, Giordano disputed that he appeared to be dry and said he was exhausted from swimming back to shore, explaining why he did not appear to be acting more urgently. When seeking help, he said he found "nobody there ... I'm supposed to scream into the air?"

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    Giordano was asked about a $1.5 million life insurance policy he took out on Gardner days before they traveled to Aruba. He said he purchased travel cancellation insurance on a website and also purchased medical, dental and accident insurance on both him and Gardner. Because both people were listed on the cancellation policy, the site automatically assigned Gardner the other insurance, he said. "You can't unselect anybody."

    He said he routinely purchases such insurance when traveling. "I have children," he said. "I have a house ... I maxed out on everything ... I was selecting it for me and she got the same thing."

    Giordano acknowledged he inquired about the policy two days after Gardner disappeared but said he was told by his then-attorney Michael Lopez to do so. Lopez told him that he could be billed for helicopters and scuba divers used to search for Gardner, he said. He told "Good Morning America" that a travel handbook issued by the Dutch government advises travelers, in the case of a missing person, to call authorities and then call their insurance company.

    Baez, who represented Casey Anthony earlier this year, suggested in the "Good Morning America" interview that Lopez might have had a financial motive for advising Giordano to call the insurance company. He alleged Lopez was "seeing dollar signs" and attempted to get Giordano to sign a retainer agreement giving him one-third of the insurance money.

    Robyn Gardner, who was traveling with Giordano,  was last seen in August.

    Reached by telephone in Aruba on Thursday, Lopez denied that, saying his agreement with Giordano did not give him one-third of the money.

    Giordano vehemently denied any involvement in Gardner's disappearance. Asked if he would do anything differently if given the chance, he said, "Absolutely. That's a silly question ... I wouldn't have come (to Aruba)." But, he added, "You can't unring a bell."

    His lawyer, Baez, likewise claimed that critics are looking for a scapegoat in Gardner's disappearance.

    "Everything that they have said in a negative way towards Gary is really supposition upon supposition, guess upon guess," he told HLN. "And just because she hasn't been recovered or found, they're just pointing their finger toward a convenient person, which is Gary."