A 10-year-old girl walked into an Arlington County courtroom Tuesday holding a small toy and plastic sunglasses and wearing pink glitter shoes. The girl was the first witness called by prosecutors in the child sex case against well-known Falls Church community activist Michael Gardner.
She's one of three girls who accused him of sexually molesting them last summer during sleepovers at the Gardners' home. Gardner's wife is Falls Church city councilwoman and former Mayor Robin Gardner.
The prosecution's first witness had to be boosted up in her seat as she took the witness stand. She put on pink, sparkly sunglasses as she settled in. When prosecutor Nicole Wittman asked, "Why are you wearing those?" the fifth-grader replied, "Because I'm a little nervous."
But the little girl confidently stood and pointed to Michael Gardner when she was asked to identify the man who allegedly "touched her girl parts" in the early morning hours of June 16, as she and five other girls attended a birthday slumber party for the Gardner's daughter.
The child testified the girls were sleeping in the basement when in the early morning hours she awakened as someone began unzipping her Sleeping Beauty sleeping bag. She testified that although it was dark, "I looked up to see who it was, and it was Mr. Gardner."
She then described how Gardner allegedly reached beneath her pajamas and began touching her private parts.
Prosecutor Wittman asked, "What did you do?"
"I wasn't sure what to do so I acted like I was asleep," she replied.
The girl said Gardner then moved on to another child but came back to her a second time and touched her again. The 10-year-old said that the next morning, as the children played hide and seek, she confided to another girl that "her girl parts hurt." Later, after her mother picked her up, she told her the same thing. Police were called, and the child was taken to the hospital for a sexual assault examination.
"Do you remember what happened at the hospital," asked Wittman. "No," replied the little girl.
In two hours of cross examination, defense attorneys underscored inconsistencies in the girl's version of events, from the time she first talked to a Falls Church detective last June until now.
"Didn't you tell Detective Richardson it was too dark to see who it was?" Greenspun asked.
The child replied, "I don't remember."
Greenspun pressed and showed her a transcript of the earlier statement. "What did you tell Detective Richardson on June 18?" The girl replied, "That he was tall and he was a boy."
Greenspun continued: "Then she asked you did you see his face? What was your answer then?"
The girl: "No."
In other questioning, defense attorneys seemed to imply the girl only named Gardner because the other girl told her he was in the basement. Defense attorneys maintain it was too dark for either girl to see.
Gardner, who is represented by prominent defense attorneys Peter Greenspun and Jonathan Shapiro, faces four sex abuse charges.
In opening statements, prosecutor Alex Amato told jurors, "It's almost unimaginable except that it's true." She told jurors that along with witness testimony, DNA evidence will tie Gardner to the crimes.
But Gardner's defense team said he's innocent, imploring jurors to keep an open mind as they listen to testimony.
Said Greeenspun, "This is one of the most miserable experiences you'll ever have ... We all have to get over the horrible part of it," and listen to the evidence.