Jury selection began Monday in the trial of the husband of a Falls Church, Va., council member accused of molesting girls at his daughter’s slumber parties, but it has been anything but an easy process.
Defendant Michael Gardner is a well-known political and civic activist in Falls Church, where his wife, Robin Gardner, serves on the council and was once mayor. Last June, the community was rocked by the allegations he sexually abused three of his daughter’s friends, resulting in four charges, including three counts of aggravated sexual battery.
As jury selection began, attorneys recounted the accusations that Gardner allegedly first inappropriately touched a 9-year-old girl the night of June 16 when she slept over with his daughter at the Gardner home. The next night, seven girls went to a sleepover in the basement of the home. Two girls said that in the early morning hours, Gardner zipped open their sleeping bags and inappropriately touched them.
On the 10th floor of the Arlington County courthouse, potential jurors were questioned about whether they could be impartial in the case.
"Does everyone agree with me that a house can look perfectly lovely outside and the family can look perfectly nice but sometimes you never know what’s going on inside?" the prosecutor asked.
Gardner’s lawyers -- prominent defense attorneys Peter Greenspun and Jonathan Shapiro – asked potential jurors, "Does anyone reject the notion that a child can make up something like that or be mistaken?"
They suggested in arguments outside potential jurors’ presence that it was so dark in the Gardners’ basement, the girls could not have possibly seen an alleged abuser. They have asked the judge to allow the entire jury to tour the Gardner home at night, so they can see conditions for themselves. The judge said he'll rule at a later date.
The pool was narrowed to 24 potential jurors by the end of Friday’s session. Strikes will be executed Tuesday beginning at 9 a.m., followed by the beginning of testimony.
The trial could stretch into next week.