After an Arlington County jury recommended a 22-year sentence for convicted sex offender Michael Gardner, the parents of one of his victims said they hoped the children Gardner attacked would grow up to be brave, strong citizens.
Their daughter was 9 years old when Gardner sexually abused her during a slumber party for his daughter. The girl, now 10, struggles with trust issues, her parents said. They called the attack a life-changing act.
“I can face my children now and say there’s been justice,” the mother said outside the Arlington County Courthouse on Wednesday.
Gardner was convicted of two counts of aggravated sexual assault and one count of object sexual penetration Wednesday. Judge Benjamin Kendrick said Gardner will formally be sentenced Sept. 7. Prosecutor Nicole Wittmann will move to settle a third aggravated sexual assault charge that left the jury deadlocked. Gardner, 48, was also ordered to pay $15,000 in fines.
Wittmann and co-prosecutor Alex Amato emerged from the courthouse victorious and smiling after the long trial. Wittmann called the young victims "heroes" for taking the stand against Gardner. She said the verdict was the right one and she was pleased with the sentence.
“We’ll ask the judge to uphold the community’s sentence in September,” Wittmann said.
Amato said the girls had their innocence taken from them and will have to carry that for the rest of their lives. She said she is hopeful the victims can begin to rebuild their lives now.
“These are parents that trusted the Gardners and that trust was violated,” Amato said.