A former Northern Virginia political leader was convicted Wednesday of molesting two girls during a sleepover party for his daughter’s birthday last summer.
Michael Gardner, husband of former Falls Church mayor Robin Gardner, a current member of the City Council, was convicted of two counts of sexual battery and one count of object penetration. He reacted stoically to the verdict.
An Arlington County Circuit Court jury recommended a sentence of 22 years in prison and a $15,000 fine.
Gardner, former chairman of the Falls Church City Democratic Committee, went into his basement, where eight of his daughter’s friends were sleeping during her 10th birthday party. He was convicted Wednesday of touching two of them.
Taking the stand during the eight-day trial, Gardner denied all the charges against him. Prosecutors showed evidence that his DNA was on one victim’s underwear and another’s pajamas. Investigators said they think the DNA was from Gardner’s saliva.
Gardner “was a man who was supposed to protect them from people like this,” said Loudoun County prosecutor Alex Amato. “He was the evil that came in the night.”
The Loudoun prosecutor’s office took the case because Arlington’s commonwealth’s attorney knows the Gardners, presenting a potential conflict of interest.
At the time of the June party, one of the victims was 9 years old, and the other was 10. A third girl said Gardner molested her, but no DNA evidence was presented in connection with that allegation, and the jury could not decide on that charge of sexual abuse.
Judge Benjamin Kendrick set a new trial on that charge for Sept. 7, the same day he is scheduled to sentence Gardner. He can impose the jury’s sentence or reduce it.
The victims’ parents spoke to the jury before sentencing, describing how difficult life has been since the incident. Several jurors cried during that portion of the proceeding, and some wiped their eyes as they left the courtroom after the trial’s conclusion.
One mother, whom The Washington Post is not identifying to protect her child, said her daughter has become fearful, angry and combative.
“She is disillusioned,” the girl’s father said. “She had no concept of the evil that could happen in the world, that could happen to her.”
Robin Gardner also addressed the jury before sentencing. She spoke tearfully of the trauma her children have endured and how close they are to their father.
She also said Michael Gardner lost his job and was not permitted to live in his house with his children after his arrest.
“There is such a loving connection between the children and their dad,” Robin Gardner said. “This has been such a traumatic experience for them. It’s been horrible.”