Prosecutors turned to a DNA expert as one of their final witnesses in their child sex abuse case against Michael Gardner on Thursday.
Gardner is a well-known Falls Church community and political activist whose wife is a councilwoman and former mayor of that city. He's accused of molesting three of his daughters' friends last June, one at a sleepover and two at a birthday slumber party the following night.
Dr. Mark Perlin, the chief scientist at the Pittsburgh-based Cybergenetics, analyzed DNA samples processed by the Virginia Department of Forensic Science. Using a highly technical presentation, he showed the jury how he matched Michael Gardner's DNA to DNA samples taken from clothing worn by two of the young accusers.
With DNA taken from one girl's underwear, Perlin found a match to Gardner is 20.7 quadrillion times more likely than a coincidental match to an unrelated Caucasian.
And with DNA taken from another child's pajamas, he found a match to Gardner is 3,000 times more probable than a match to an unrelated Caucasian.
Prosecutors stopped short of asking if those findings mean no one but Gardner's could be the source of the DNA.
In cross-examination, defense attorney Peter Greenspun underscored the fact that Perlin was not asked to analyze another, unknown DNA profile that was also found on some of the girls' clothing. The state crime lab only sent samples from the two alleged victims and Gardner.
The prosecution also called its final witness, the last of the three alleged victims to testify. The 10-year-old girl said Gardner fondled her when she slept over with his daughter.
She said the two were sleeping on the bedroom floor when Gardner's daughter called for her father during a thunderstorm. The girl said that on a second visit to the bedroom, Gardner lay down between the two girls and repeatedly touched her stomach, chest and genitals.
In testimony that sometimes sounded rehearsed, the girl told prosecutor Nicole Wittman, "He sexually assaulted me."
The child said Gardner "asked me if it felt good and I told him, 'no'". After that, she said, he left the room.
She said she didn't tell her parents the next day because she was "scared and embarrassed." She also returned to the Gardner home the next night for the slumber party.
During a long cross-examination, Gardner's defense lawyers pointed out the girl didn't mention the incident until she became aware of the police investigation into the slumber party. It wasn't until the end of an interview with a Falls Church police detective five days after the sleepover that she reported being molested.
Asked Greenspun: "You were proud of yourself for helping police?"
"Yes," replied the 5th grader.
"You wanted to be included in what police were doing with the other girls?" he asked.
Again, the answer was "yes," Greenspun also spotlighted many inconsistencies in the way the girl has described what happened. She had testified that Gardner "sneaked his hand" beneath her pajamas to touch her.
But Greenspun challenged that, asking, "You were under the covers, weren't you?" The girl said yes.
Defense attorneys will begin calling their first witnesses tomorrow. They had also asked the judge for permission to take the jury to the Gardner's basement where the slumber party occurred during the night, so they could see the dark conditions for themselves. The judge rejected their request.