Falls Church political activist Michael Gardner was taken into custody Wednesday, just minutes after an Arlington jury found him guilty on three of the four child molestation charges he faced.
The jury recommended a sentence of 22 years in prison Wednesday evening.
Relatives including Gardner's wife, Falls Church City Councilwoman and former Mayor Robin Gardner, burst into tears when the verdict was read. Gardner stood quietly as the clerk read the jury's verdict and did not show any emotion. Several of the parents of the young victims smiled slightly as the verdict was announced.
There was heavy security in the court with the sheriff and 11 deputies posted throughout the room just in case there was an angry reaction or any conflict between the victims' families and the Gardner family.
With its decision, the jury found Gardner guilty of two counts of aggravated sexual battery and one count of object penetration, the most serious charge against him.
Those charges stem from the allegations of two girls who say Gardner molested them June 18 during a birthday slumber party at the Gardner home.
With graphic detail, the 11-year-olds, who were 10 at the time, testified that Gardner came into the basement full of sleeping girls several times around 4 a.m.
One girl said she was awakened when Gardner unzipped her sleeping bag and began touching her "girl parts." She says he then walked toward the other girl, only to later return and molest her again. Perhaps the most powerful piece of prosecution evidence was the fact that DNA with a high probability of being Gardner's was found on that child's underwear.
The second victim said Gardner knelt down next to her mattress several times and touched her vaginal area. She said at first she pretended to be asleep.
"I didn't know what to do," she testified. "I was nervous and scared."
But she said the last time, when Gardner lifted her pajama waistband, she let him know she was awake. She said he asked if she was OK, then left.
The next morning as the two girls were hiding together during a game of hide and seek, one asked the other, "Do you feel anything on your girl parts?" The other girl replied, "Yes, yes it was Mr. Gardner and I said, 'You need to tell your mom when you get home.' " Both girls told their parents shortly after they were picked up from the slumber party.
Falls Church police were called soon after and the investigation began.
Gardner had maintained his innocence since the beginning and took the stand earlier this week to deny improperly touching any of the girls.
The jury could not reach a decision on the remaining aggravated sexual battery charge, and the judge declared a mistrial on that charge. Prosecutors intend to pursue that charge again in September.
The victim in that case didn't make her allegation until several days after the other girls, but she said she was molested during a sleepover with Gardner's daughter the night before the slumber party. Her testimony had far more inconsistencies than did that of the other two girls. Just a week before the trial, she added new details.
Gardner faced a possible 1-20 years for the aggravated sexual battery charges and five years to life on the object penetration charge. His attorneys asked for seven years.
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