ARLINGTON, Va. (WUSA) - An Arlington County Jury found Michael Gardner guilty of sexually abusing two young girls who were at is daughter's birthday slumber party.
Testimony from those two girls, plus the strong DNA evidence on their underwear and pajama pants that pointed to Gardner, lead to the guilty verdicts on three counts.
The jury then recommended Gardner serve 22 years in prison.
Parents of the girls say they would have preferred a longer sentence, but were satisfied with 22 years. One mother said that all she wanted was to "end the violence" and protect any other children. She said children would be safe from Michael Gardner at least until he turns 70 and is released from prison.
A father said "justice was served" and that the verdict will help with the healing process for these "brave girls."
Deputy Commonwealth's Attorney Nicole Wittmann called the girls 'heros.' She said that if the girls hadn't come forward so quickly (that morning) so that the evidence could be collected, they might not have secured a conviction.
The jury convicted Gardner on two counts of sexual battery, which each carry a sentence of one to 20 years, and one count of object penetration, which carries a sentence of five years to life. Minutes after the verdict, Gardner's wife, Falls Church Councilwoman, collapsed into gut-wrenching sobs.
A few hours later, Robin Gardner took the stand in the sentencing phase. Four jurors wiped their eyes as she broke down talking about the pain and hardship she and their twin children have suffered over the past year.
Michael Gardner was charged last June after three girls accused him of fondling them on their genitals during the night. He was charged with four counts.
The jury was deadlocked on the fourth sexual battery charge which came from another girl who says she was similarly abused at a sleepover with the Gardner's daughter the night before the slumber party. That child did not come forward until later, when police were questioning all the girls who were at the slumber party. Because of the time lapse, and possible washings, her pajamas were never tested for DNA.
The parents of the girls said they would have liked to see a longer sentence, but were satisfied with the 22-year recommendation.
The father of the girl who seemed most confident on the stand said she now has anxiety, and trouble eating and sleeping, Her father said, "[She] had no concept of the evil that can happen in the world, the evil that happened to her. "
"It was inconceivable to her that someone could do something to her that was so wrong. [She] keeps saying 'He had a choice. It doesn't matter how sick he was, he had a choice."
The mother of the other girl said, "She's had to deal with embarrassing questions, she shows a profound distrust of strangers."
"The stress and sense of guilt has been overwhelming. Her innocence and trust has been taken from her forever."
Prosecutor Alex Amato told the jury that Michael Gardner was supposed to be the one protecting them from evil. Instead, she said, "He was the evil that come in the night. He's the one that violated their trust."
"They will forever be tainted by the fact that they were violated."
The convictions come from Gardner's daughter's slumber party on June 17th. The jury believed two girls who said Mr. Gardner fondled their genitals. One of the girls said he put his finger inside her vagina. The prosecution presented convincing DNA evidence which found Gardner's DNA on both of those girl's clothing. His DNA was found on one girl's pajama pants and the interior crotch of the other girl's underwear. She's the one connected to the penetration charge. The strongest DNA was found on her underwear: the probability of the DNA matching to Gardner is one in 20.7 quadrillion.
"That's his DNA," Commonwealth's Attorney Nicole Wittman told the jury in closing arguments Tuesday.
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