The Virginia Supreme Court remanded the molestation case of a former Democratic Party official down to Circuit Court for retrial.
Michael Armin Gardner was convicted of molesting two girls who attended a slumber party for his daughter's 10th birthday. An Arlington County Circuit Court jury was unable to reach a verdict on a charge related to the third child.
He was sentenced to 22 years in prison for aggravated sexual battery.
In a 6-1 ruling Thursday, the Supreme Court said the trial judge improperly barred two character witnesses from testifying about whether Gardner had a reputation as a good caretaker of children. Their testimony was limited to Gardner's general reputation for honesty and peacefulness.
“We’re obviously disappointed, especially for the children involved," special prosecutor Nicole Wittmann said. "We will retry this matter as soon as possible.”
Gardner remains in custody. His defense will seek to have him released on bond.
"Michael Gardner and his family are ecstatic that the Supreme Court of Virginia has ruled what we have known since the trial; that his convictions were based upon a flawed prosecution and trial process," read a statement from defense attorney Peter Greenspun.
Gardner, 50, had been chairman of the Democratic committee in Falls Church and his wife is a former mayor.
Gardner maintained his innocence throughout the trial and appeal process.
"A cry for help from one distressed child visiting my home has been hijacked and that miscarriage has cast us into darkness," he said at his sentencing hearing.
Gardner's wife, former Falls Church Mayor Robin Gardner, said she believed her husband. "Yes I do [believe him], and I will fight for him with every fight that I have in me."
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