Delaware's Giordano gets a second chance

Ncaa Lacrosse

May 25, 2007|By RICK MAESE

NEWARK, Del. — NEWARK, Del.-- --It was about 3 o'clock in the morning when the altercation became physical. Harsh words -- racial slurs even -- begot physical blows. A baseball bat was involved. By the time police arrived on the Jersey Shore, one man was down -- a black off-duty police officer -- and authorities were searching Sea Isle City, N.J., for three suspects.

They quickly nabbed two of them near the site of the attack and shortly thereafter picked up the third suspect not far away. That third man was Vincent Giordano, a student at the University of Delaware, a star for the school's lacrosse team, a young man who'd always been bigger than others his age. In fact, his father used to tell him: "You might be bigger, but there's no reason to act like a bully. You respect others."

As the Delaware men's lacrosse team prepares to compete in this weekend's final four, the details of that August 2006 attack are finally clear. But what they'll never fully understand is how and why Giordano, a good kid from a good home, came to find himself in a police station, using his one phone call to wake up his father.

As Guy Giordano says, when your son is calling in the middle of the night, it's never to share good news. Vincent Giordano, 21, was arrested and charged with aggravated assault, possession of a weapon and bias intimidation. The victim, Jarreau Francis, 25, suffered a concussion in the attack. Because he was black and his attackers white -- and because racially charged language was used -- authorities labeled it a hate crime.

"It was all pretty devastating," Guy Giordano says. "For all of us. It was one of the worst things you could deal with as a family. I lost my father at 28 and had to take over the family business. I thought that was as bad as it would get. But when something involves your own child, it's just terrible."

And it only got worse.

Giordano was suspended from the lacrosse team and then kicked out of school. Delaware has a policy that automatically expels any student charged with a felony.

As classes started and his lacrosse team held its first team meeting of the year, Giordano was back at his family's Moorestown, N.J., home, talking himself in circles and spiraling into depression. He kept insisting that he wasn't involved in the attack, but it felt like the world was stacked against him.

Giordano wouldn't eat, didn't want to leave the house and didn't really feel like talking -- especially when a local news station showed up and thrust a microphone into the thin crack of the doorway. Well-to-do lacrosse player in trouble -- the local news predictably pounced.

The fact that Giordano denied involvement seemed like a footnote. Even family members took their time to sift through the particulars.

"It took me about 24 hours," his father says, "but I came home the next day, I hugged him, and I told him, `I know you didn't do it. I'm sorry I doubted you.' And from that point on, we started the process to get his name cleared."

It was hard for anyone who'd met Giordano to fathom that he was involved in a race-related attack, which is why in a news release one day after the attack, Blue Hens lacrosse coach Bob Shillinglaw made certain to include the following: "I have spoken to Vince and he strongly maintains his innocence and that this was a case of mistaken identity. I stand behind him."

That support earned Shillinglaw a flood of angry e-mails. Threatening letters were showing up in the Giordano mailbox, too. The parallels with the Duke lacrosse scandal weren't lost on anyone -- the violence, the school expulsion, the race implications, the confused suspects.

"None of it ever added up for me," Shillinglaw says today. "Vince is a kid who would avoid stepping on an ant. There was no way he did what they said he did. Never in my wildest dreams could I imagine that."

As much of the nation's attention was focused on the Duke scandal, Giordano's family quietly waged its battle. The family hired a private investigator and conducted a polygraph test.

While his teammates were doing offseason conditioning back in Newark, Giordano was alone in his backyard with a lacrosse stick in hand. His family hired a successful Atlantic City, N.J., lawyer named Edwin J. Jacobs, who kept reassuring them that he'd get Giordano his life back.

"But what about lacrosse?" they'd say. And when the lawyer tried to tell them that wasn't as important, their rebuttal was already loaded in the barrel. "I kept saying, `You have absolutely no idea,' " says Guy Giordano. " `If he misses next season, he just will never be the same again.' "

The investigator and Giordano's attorney met with prosecutors and laid out their evidence -- the polygraph test, witness accounts that had Giordano several blocks away from the fight, photos that showed Giordano didn't have a scratch on him. Not only was he not in the fight, they contended, but Giordano also had never met the other two attackers and was actually hanging out with his own buddies at a party.

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