An Arlington Circuit Court jury will begin deliberating at approximately 3 p.m. this afternoon over the fate of Falls Church resident Michael Gardner on charges of sexually molesting and assaulting three girls who visited his home last June.
Just before 1:30 p.m., a court official randomly selected the names of two of the 14-member panel of jurors and alternate jurors. The two people – one man and one woman – were thanked by Judge Benjamin Kendrick for their service and attentiveness, and then dismissed. The final jury that will pronounce Gardner guilty or not guilty consists of eight women and four men.
Their first order of business following an hour-long lunch break will be to select a foreman who will guide the deliberations and inform the court of the jury’s verdict.
Prosecutor Nicole Wittmann and defense attorney Peter Greenspun each spent more than one hour this morning and early afternoon delivering closing arguments, consisting of summarizing their own cases, hammering away at the weaknesses of their counterpart’s case and urging their sought-for verdicts. The two at various times made their points while grasping before the jury some of the evidence already presented during the case, including pajamas, underpants, a nightgown and sleeping bag belonging to the girls.
Wittmann’s and Greenspun’s arguments occurred before a packed courtroom that included five of the complainants’ six parents; Gardner’s wife, Robin, a member of the Falls Church city council; neighbors and friends on both sides; and curious court employees. Several people who had testified during the trial also attended, including Falls Church Police Department detective Sonia Richardson, the lead investigator on the case, who had been called to the stand more often than any other witness.
Gardner, sitting at the defense table across the room from the jury, wore a charcoal-colored suit and donned eyeglasses for the first time since the trial began on April 23.
Wittmann called on the jury to confine its deliberations to the facts presented at trial, resting her case on the twin pillars of the testimony of witnesses – primarily, the three girls Gardner allegedly assaulted during overnight visits to his daughter last June 16 and June 18 – and the DNA evidence collected from the undergarments of two of the girls. The testimony and evidence, which Wittmann called “loud and clear,” justify conviction on all three charges of aggravated sexual battery and one charge of sexual penetration for which Gardner was indicted, she said.
Wittmann several times called the defense’s presentation “nonsense” in various forms, and one based on speculation rather than on facts.
Greenspun told the jury that Wittmann had presented a “skilled and compelling argument,” but one that was “wrong because Michael Gardner did not commit these crimes.”
Several times, Greenspun mocked the prosecution’s overall case and selected tactics as signs of “desperation” and of “smoke and mirrors” to obtain a conviction. He also repeatedly de-emphasized the value of the DNA evidence linking Gardner to the girls’ garments because, he said, a visitor to someone’s house would necessarily be “swimming” in the host’s “DNA pool.”
Gardner exhibited “courage” and “moxie” in deciding to testify yesterday in his own defense, Greenspun stated.
In her rebuttal near the end of today’s session, Wittmann attacked Greenspun’s “swimming … pool” defense, arguing that forensic analysis of the girl’s garments neither found the DNA of another male who then resided in the Gardner home nor the girls’ DNA on each other.
“If, in fact, all these girls were swimming in the DNA pool, you’d expect to see different facts” emerge, she said.
“The DNA [evidence] is extremely convincing … “What does that mean? That it’s him,” Wittmann said, referring to Gardner.
“What happened in the Gardner home these two days is unimaginable – except for the fact that all the [evidence] tells you that it is true,” Wittmann concluded.
“Now it’s in your hands,” Greenspun told the jury at the end of his summation, comparing the trial’s presentation to sponges that the jury now has to wring out while deliberating. “At the end, ladies and gentlemen, after you stop wringing it out … you’ll let Mr. Gardner go home with his family.”