Falls Church man's defense team pulls out of molestation trial after hitman allegations

There are new allegations in the retrial of a Falls Church man who has been charged with molesting two young girls.

Michael Gardner, a former Falls Church Democratic chairman, and husband of a former Falls Church mayor, had his defense team pulled out of the case.

The reason? Gardner's lawyer may be called as a witness over allegations from a jailhouse informant who claims Gardner talked about hiring someone to kidnap or kill young victims in this case that may testify against him.

Gardner was convicted in 2012 of molesting two girls, who were 9 and 10 years old at the time. The trial was scheduled for March 4, but now that is in serious doubt.

Last month, an inmate who was in prison with Gardner wrote a letter. In that letter, he claimed Gardner approached that inmate about finding someone to either kill or kidnap the girls.

Garner's previous conviction was overturned on appeal and he has been in custody on a separate molestation charge involving a relative as this case was headed to retrial.

At the Arlington County courthouse, the judge hearing Gardner's retrial ruled that because he spoke with his lawyer about the alleged jailhouse conversation over an alleged murder-for-hire plot, that lawyer may be called as a witness.

Gardner denies any involvement in a murder-for-hire plot, and said his attorneys were asked to contact authorities on his behalf to warn them about the conversation.

Prosecutors say that Gardner is not facing new charges from the jailhouse informant's allegations, but they did want to introduce the inmate's testimony as evidence in Gardner's new trial.

The lawyer for Gardner's lawyer on Monday said the defense team could not go forward if they themselves were going to be called as witnesses. The defense said Gardner called his lawyer, Chris Liebig, after an undercover officer in jail tried to get Gardner to confirm what the informant claimed.

The father for one of the alleged victims said the new allegations have added more pain to what has been a nightmare the victims' families.

"To say it is horrifying doesn't come close," said Dan Rice, the father of one of the alleged victims. "To sit in a room and be told with law enforcement officers from the state, from three different local jurisdictions and FBI officers and they tell you that there is a potential plot to abduct and murder your children is not something you can really describe."

"Mr. Gardner and his lawyer are trying to help the police intercept this suspicious character, answered questions not knowing when there were telephone calls that Chris Liebig was being tape recorded, which in my opinion is unethical," said John Zwerling, an attorney for the defense team.

The original case against Gardner was alleged to have happened during a slumber party for Gardner's daughter's 10th birthday.

Technically, Gardner is now representing himself until he can hire a new lawyer.

The judge said she wants everyone back in her courtroom Friday morning to figure out the next step. But it is looking like that March 4 trial start date in now in serious jeopardy.

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