A 10-year-old girl this morning identified Falls Church resident Michael Gardner as the man who last June fondled her and penetrated her with his finger.
Asked by prosecutor Nicole Wittmann, the deputy commonwealth attorney for Loudoun County, to identify the her assailant, the girl stood up in the witness stand just before noon and pointed to Gardner, sitting across and to her left in the 10th floor court room in Arlington Circuit Court. She was the first witness to be called in the trial of Gardner on four felony counts of aggravated sexual battery and object sexual penetration, allegedly committed at his home during two of his daughter’s slumber parties.
Asked later about the incident by defense attorney Peter Greenspun, the girl stated that she had neither seen Gardner earlier that night nor for at least a year beforehand, and that she had told police in an earlier statement that the basement where she slept that night had been “very dark” when the incident occurred.
Wearing gray-rimmed tinted glasses because, she said, she was nervous, the girl related that Gardner stood behind the tan couch on which she slept, unzipped her pink Sleeping Beauty sleeping bag, fondled her, left and then returned and inserted his finger inside “my girl parts.”
The girl stated that the action “hurt” her and that she rolled around in an unsuccessful effort to put a stop to it. She later pointed to a large diagram to indicate where on her body the alleged attack occurred.
In between the two episodes, she said, Gardner approached another girl sleeping on the L-shaped couch, and that she “was able to hear” him fondle that girl, too.
She testified that she did not say anything that night to the other girls sleeping in the room or to Gardner’s wife Robin, a Falls Church City Council member, at breakfast the next morning. Because of the physical pain, she stated, she told another friend while they played in an upstairs closet in the morning.
During Greenspun’s questioning, however, the girl conceded that the friend had told her that Gardner was the one responsible. The friend “said she thought it was Mr. Gardner,” she stated.
Jessica Campbell, a nurse now working in Tennessee who had been called into Inova Fairfax Hospital the night after the alleged attack, testified that she performed a two-stage genital examination of the girl and found a .2 cm x .5 cm laceration. Under defense questioning, Campbell agreed that the laceration could have been caused by a condition or accident mimicking a sexual assault.
Gardner also is charged with aggravated sexual assault against two other girls, including the friend the witness said she spoke to in the closet. Both will be called by the prosecution to testify in a trial that is expected to run through Monday.
Immediately before the testimony began this morning, the nine-female, five-male jury (including two alternates) was sworn in, with the 12 remaining members of Monday’s jury pool dismissed by Judge Benjamin Kendrick.
Assistant commonwealth attorney for Loudoun County Alex Amato and Greenspun, one of Gardner’s two defense attorneys, delivered opening statements. “This is one of the most horrible experiences you’ll ever have. This is horrible,” Greenspun told the jury. He urged them to “hear the evidence for what it is” and to “keep an open mind.”