Michael Gardner, a longtime City of Falls Church resident and political activist, pleaded guilty Thursday to all counts in two child sex abuse cases, one of which was due to go to trial Thursday, and the other slated for late November. Gardner’s attorneys recommended a sentence of 20 years in prison which was so ordered. Gardner’s trial set for today would have involved a niece who was 12 at the time she was molested by Gardner, but is now 18. She came forward with her story last year after a conviction in another case against Gardner involving two girls, ages 9 and 10 at a slumber party in his home in the summer of 2011, was reversed by a higher court.
Gardner, 51, entered guilty pleas to one count of object sexual penetration and four counts of aggravated sexual battery. Gardner was sentenced to 40 years, 20 of those suspended and supervised probation for life. Once released, he will be required to register as a sex offender and will not be permitted to unsupervised contact with minors, the victims, or their families.
The plea agreement was reached on the second day of a trial for sexually assaulting his niece when she was 12. A retrial was set to begin in November for Gardner’s sexual assault of two 10 year old girls at his daughter’s slumber party; that trial is negated with the guilty pleas.
Alejandra Rueda and Nicole Wittmann of the Commonwealth Attorney’s Office received the agreement today during the trial. “We are pleased that the victims have closure and finality,” said Wittmann in a City press release. “I’m confident that other children will be protected based on this result.”
“I am very proud of all of stakeholders in the Criminal Justice System particularly the victims in this case” said City of Falls Church Police Chief Mary Gavin in the press release. “The four little girls displayed tremendous courage and strength. The Falls Church Police Department is grateful to all mutual aid law enforcement partners from Federal, State and Local organizations. Det. Sonya Richardson, the lead investigator, as well as peer detectives and supervisors throughout the past four years worked diligently and often to exhaustion to ensure a comprehensive and thorough investigation. The Loudoun County Commonwealth Attorney’s Nicole Wittmann and Alejandra Rueda worked tirelessly to ensure justice was served for the four victims, their families and the entire community.”
The following is the official response to the outcome from Gardner’s attorney, Bradley Haywood:
“Michael Gardner entered pleas of guilty yesterday to criminal charges pending against him in Arlington County, VA, in exchange for a sentence that will require him to serve an additional 13 1/2 years prior to his release. Based on a series of in-court rulings, Michael concluded that he could not receive a fair trial and that continued proceedings risked unfair attention and potential legal action against his family.
“His guilty plea therefore represented an effort to protect his wife and children, and moreover reflected a hope that finality will provide all parties involved a sense of closure and an opportunity to heal. For a man who has been maligned as unfairly as Michael, when the time came to make the right decision, he made that decision, and he made it for the right reasons. We admire his courage and conviction, and hope that everyone involved or affected can move forward in their lives, as difficult as that may be.”
The outcome today included immunity and additional protection provided for Gardner’s wife, former Falls Church mayor and City Council member Robin Gardner.