Sonia Richardson delayed three weeks in executing a search warrant of Michael Gardner’s home last summer after being told of “a possible conflict of interest,” the Falls Church Police Department detective told an Arlington Circuit Court today.
The statement came as Gardner’s lawyers began presenting their defense of the Falls Church resident on four felony charges of aggravated sexual battery and penetration against three young girls who visited the home last June 16-18. The case is expected to go to the jury for deliberations on Monday.
Asked by Gardner’s attorney, Peter Greenspun, to tell the court who ordered the delay, Richardson responded that it was Mollie Newton, Arlington County’s assistant commonwealth attorney.
“She told me to hold up,“ Richardson said.
Richardson added that she was neither told to stop investigating the case nor to stop sending evidence for forensic testing.
This afternoon, the defendant’s wife, Falls Church City Council member Robin Gardner, testified that she noticed “nothing at all” unusual or emotional about the behavior of any of the eight girls at the party when they ate breakfast in the defendant’s kitchen the morning of June 18. Two of the complainants had testified at the trial that Gardner sexually assaulted them in the basement hours earlier.
Robin Gardner stated that her husband fell asleep before she did on the night of June 17, and added that she woke up briefly at approximately 1:00 a.m. to check on the girls in the basement. Upon returning to bed, she said, Michael Gardner remained asleep.
During cross-examination conducted by Alex Amato, she said she “would not lie about my husband abusing any child. I would not lie about anything of that sort to protect my husband.”
“It’s been a challenging year,” she stated.
Richardson, an eight-year employee of the Falls Church Police Department, told the court that more than three weeks passed between Gardner’s arrest on June 22 and her seeking and obtaining a search warrant for the home on July 14, a delay she told Greenspun was due to “logistics and manpower” matters.
Pressed further, Richardson stated that she delayed because “I hadn’t spoken to all the witnesses yet” and “because of the nature of the case, [its] being high profile, and [because] I wanted to represent everybody correctly.”
Richardson testified to finding no pornographic material in the laptop, thumb drive or cellular telephone that were among the four or five items she seized from the home last July. Greenspun had sought to establish that child molesters typically possess such material.
In cross-examining Richardson, prosecutor Nicole Wittmann suggested the oddity of Robin Gardner’s laptop – the one seized by police – being the only computer found in the home, given, Wittman said, that Michael Gardner did business in the software industry and often traveled to Seattle on long business trips.
The first defense witness, Falls Church architect Jack Wilbern, testified earlier in the morning that he visited the Gardner home last Sunday at Greenspun’s request to measure the basement and bedroom where the alleged attacks occurred and that he later produced scale drawings of them. Wibern said he did not charge Gardner for his measurements, but hadn’t decided whether to charge for the drawings, which he said took several hours to complete. The drawings were displayed in court this morning.
The day’s session concluded late this afternoon with testimony by the Gardner’s twin son and daughter.