Michael Gardner testified in his own defense this morning, several times denying that he had sexually touched any of the three girls who visited his daughter at the family’s Falls Church home last June.
Asked by defense attorney Peter Greenspun whether on June 16 he had touched a then-nine-year-old girl in any manner that she testified to last Thursday, Gardner responded, “Absolutely not.” Queried again whether he had touched her, he responded, “No, and nothing that can be construed as something like that.”
The comments came on the fifth day of Gardner’s trial in Arlington Circuit Court on four charges of sexual assault and penetration of the girls during overnight visits related to the birthday of the defendant’s daughter.
In mid-afternoon, the defense rested its case, and Judge Benjamin Kendrick dismissed the jury so that they could get a fresh start tomorrow. Charging of the jury and closing arguments will occur Tuesday morning, with the panel beginning deliberations thereafter.
When Greenspun twice asked whether he had touched the nine-year-old girl on June 16, or the two girls – ages 9 and 10 at the times of another alleged attack, on the morning of June 18 – who took the witness stand last Tuesday and Wednesday, in the manners they described, Gardner, “No” and “I did not.”
Regarding the girl who testified Thursday, Gardner stated that during a thunderstorm last June 16, he briefly touched her midriff and his own daughter’s back while playing a game the girls initiated that dealt with lightning’s conductivity between people. He said that during the sleepover he twice entered his daughter’s bedroom at the Gardner girl’s request because of her fear about the thunderstorm’s intensity that night. Gardner said he sat on the floor most of the time in the room, leaning against her bed as the girls played a variety of games.
The visiting girl spoke that night about the super-human powers she thinks lightning conveys, Gardner said. She is “a delightful girl, and she has a vivid imagination,” he said.
In response to another question, Gardner related that “absolutely not” had he ever been accused of wrongdoing during the eight years he coached a Fairfax City Police Club soccer team of girls ages 8 to 14. Gardner had stated earlier that he played intramural soccer and tennis as a George Mason University student.
Whether Gardner would be called to testify was an open question since the trial began on April 24. During jury selection, Gardner’s lawyers had preserved the option, cautioning prospective jurors that a decision by the defendant to refrain from testifying should not be taken as suspicious.
In cross-examining Gardner, prosecutor Nicole Wittmann presented a blog entry Gardner wrote in January 2009 under the heading “Little Hotties.” Gardner stated that the words related to the brand name of the gloves and hand warmers he considered buying for attending President Obama’s inauguration.
At Wittmann’s request, Gardner demonstrate in court his ability to hold up his right index finger, rub his fingers across a flat surface and tap his fingers – all positions and motions the girls testified were how Gardner had touched and assaulted them.
Earlier in the day, the defense again called back to the witness stand Falls Church Police Department detective Sonia Richardson, who was the lead investigator of the case. Richardson testified that “it is possible” that she missed seeing several telephones while executing a search of the Gardner home last July, and that she did not ask the Seattle technology company for which Gardner works whether he used company computers.
Richardson had testified last week that she had been searching for evidence last summer showing whether Gardner had an interest in digital or hard-copy child pornography. In his testimony yesterday, Gardner stated that his family owned had at least six electronic devices – telephones, laptop and desktop computers and personal digital assistants – that the police never sought from him.
When Greenspun asked whether Gardner had any sexual interest in children, he replied, “Absolutely not.”
Following today’s lunch break, Greenspun presented six neighbors, friends, colleagues and co-parishioners, including Rev. Catherine Tibbetts of the Falls Church Episcopal Church, who testified as the defendant’s character witnesses.
Greenspun also called Richardson back to the stand to question her version of the time line late on June 18, when she and Sgt. Ed Lancaster visited the Gardner home to question the defendant and his wife Robin, a member of the Falls Church City Council, about the alleged attacks the previous two nights.