On January 1, 2008, Bronson Parsons was walking along Highway 200 in East Missoula when he was struck and killed in a hit and run accident. Ten hours later, Montana Highway Patrol stopped Garding near the scene because she had a cracked windshield. However, she was quickly released when law enforcement realized there was no damage to her car’s front end where they would expect to see significant damage had her car been the one that hit Parsons.
In April 2010, the State of Montana charged Garding with Vehicular Homicide, Leaving the Scene of an Accident, and Driving Without a Valid Driver’s License. At the time, James Bordeaux, Garding’s former partner, was facing a burglary charge and a Persistent Felony Offender designation. The court could have sentenced him up to 20 years for the burglary charge and up to 100 years for the PFO designation. Bordeaux made a plea deal with the State that he would testify against Garding and plead guilty to the burglary charge, and the State would recommend that he receive a five-year suspended sentence as opposed to the possible 100 he faced as a PFO.
The Wrongful Conviction
The case went to trial in June 2011. Garding was represented by a public defender who did not hire an accident reconstruction expert to testify. She was found guilty, and in 2013, the Montana Supreme Court affirmed the conviction. Following her unsuccessful appeal, MTIP began investigating Garding’s case.
Arguments in Support of her Innocence
Three arguments emerged in support of her innocence: (1) the State violated Garding’s 5th and 14th Amendment rights when it failed to turn over exculpatory evidence, including x-rays of the victim taken by its medical expert and photographs of a similar crash that would have supported the argument that Garding’s car could not have been responsible for Parsons death due to its lack of damage; (2) Garding’s trial counsel was ineffective when she failed to hire an accident reconstruction expert; and (3) newly discovered evidence in the form of findings from three accident reconstruction experts hired by MTIP show Garding’s car could not have caused Parsons’s death.
Based on these findings, on September 15, 2015, MTIP filed a Petition for Post-Conviction Relief, which was denied by District Judge John Larson. MTIP appealed Judge Larson’s ruling to the Montana Supreme Court; it affirmed on June 23, 2020. Having exhausted all remedies in state court, MTIP filed a Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus in federal court on July 12, 2020.
In the Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus, MTIP argues that the Montana Supreme Court incorrectly applied federal law. Specifically, MTIP argues that (1) the Montana court incorrectly applied Brady v. Maryland and Kyles v. Whitley when determining whether the State failed to turn over exculpatory evidence, (2) the Montana court incorrectly applied Strickland v. Washington when determining whether Garding received ineffective assistance of counsel, and (3) even if the Court does not find the violations individually warrant reversal, when viewed as a whole, the effects deprived Katie of her 5th and 14th amendment rights to due process and a fair trial.
MTIP Executive Director, Amy Sings In The Timber, said the organization continues to fight for Garding because it believes in the power of the newly discovered evidence to demonstrate her innocence.
“MTIP is dedicated to the investigation, litigation, and exoneration of the wrongfully convicted. Our process is rigorous,” Sings In The Timber said. “We’ve taken Katie’s case because we believe that the new evidence of innocence is strong enough to overcome the incredibly steep obstacles set before her—strong enough to walk by Katie’s side until justice prevails.”