Prominent Falls Church City resident Michael Gardner was sentenced today to 22 years in prison for molesting two young girls attending his daughter’s slumber party at his home in June 2011.
Gardner, a blogger and former chair of the Falls Church City Democratic Committee, was found guilty in May on two counts of aggravated sexual battery and one count of object sexual penetration against two victims, who were 9 and 10 at the time of the attacks. The jury recommended 22 years in prison for the offenses – 12 for the penetration charge, and six and four for the two sexual battery charges.
The victims and their families were present for the hearing today. Gardner’s wife, former City of Falls Church Mayor Robin Gardner, was also present.
Michael Gardner, in a brief prepared statement at the sentencing hearing before Arlington County Circuit Court Judge Benjamin Kendrick, told the court that he was innocent of the charges against him. “I have been falsely accused,” Gardner said.
Gardner’s lawyer, Peter Greenspun, sought leniency in the judge’s sentencing for the sake of Gardner’s family, whom Greenspun showed pictures of to Kendrick. He asked the judge to consider “the 99 percent Michael Gardner,” whom Greenspun described as a man with no record of criminal or suspicious activity who is an important part of his family, church, and community.
Prosecutor Nicole Wittmann said that the jury heard “a very complete trial” and was aware of the circumstances of the case, including those Greenspun put forth, when determining that Gardner should serve 22 years in prison. She also addressed Gardner’s position in the Falls Church community, arguing that because of his family’s reputation there was an inherent trust in them on the part of the victims and their families.
“That trust was betrayed,” Wittmann said.
In making his determination, Kendrick acknowledged Gardner’s community activism, but said that he ultimately trusted the jury’s decision.
“We put a lot of faith in our jury system,” Kendrick said. He later added, in addressing Gardner and his not guilty plea, “They did not believe you.”