On January 1, 2008, Bronson Parsons and Daniel Barry were walking along the right-hand shoulder of Highway 200 in East Missoula, Montana. Parsons was struck and killed by a hit-and-run vehicle. Parsons and Barry dropped the beer cans they were holding. Within minutes, Montana Highway Patrolman Novak arrived at the scene. Based on the location of the beer cans and a set of tire tracks on the shoulder of the road, Novak determined the approximate point of impact. Parsons’ body landed 93 feet from that point.
Ten hours later, Hader stopped Katie Garding near the scene of the incident because she had a cracked windshield on her black 1994 Chevy Blazer. The vehicle had a unique, aftermarket steel bumper protruding from the front end.
Garding is Cleared
Because the vehicle had no damage to its front end, Hader believed that it could not have struck Parsons. However, he cited Garding for driving without a license and arrested her boyfriend, James Bordeaux, who was also in the vehicle on an out-of-state warrant. The hit-and-run case went cold.
Nearly one year later, Bordeaux was incarcerated in Missoula on a burglary charge. Because of prior convictions, Bordeaux faced Persistent Felony Offender designation. Hader contacted Bordeaux, who, for the first time, said that he was a passenger in Garding’s vehicle when it struck Parsons.
Garding is Falsely Implicated
The State took another look at Ms. Garding’s possible culpability. In exchange for providing testimony, the State offered Bordeaux a plea deal: if he would testify against Ms. Garding and plead guilty to the burglary, the State would recommend that he receive a five-year suspended sentence. While the possible PFO designation was not discussed or mentioned in the State’s written plea agreement, the designation was dismissed. Obtaining Bordeaux’s cooperation, the State then charged Ms. Garding with Parsons’ death.
The case went to trial in June 2011. Ms. Garding was represented by a public defender. Neither the State nor the defense called an accident reconstruction expert to testify. Ms. Garding was found guilty of Negligent Vehicular Homicide and Leaving the Scene of an Accident.
In 2013, her conviction was affirmed by the Montana Supreme. MTIP then began its investigation into the case.
MTIP’s Arguments for her Innocence
On September 15, 2015, MTIP filed Petition for Post-conviction Relief that brought forth three arguments for Garding’s innocence: (1) the prosecution failed to turn over key evidence in violation of Brady v. Maryland, including photographs of a 2005 crash that had similarities to the case in question, (2) Garding’s original attorney exemplified Ineffective Assistance of Counsel when she failed to call a reconstructionist, and (3) newly discovered evidence existed in the accident reconstruction evaluations.
Judge Larson Refused to Grant Relief
Regarding the proposed Brady violation, he ruled that the evidence from the 2005 crash was not exculpatory evidence because there was no medical analysis showing the similarity between the two accidents; thus, it was not probable that the defense having the evidence would have produced a different outcome at trial.
Judge Larson also refuted the Ineffective Assistance of Council argument, finding that Garding’s original attorney was effective because she had competent cross-examinations, and he believed that not calling a reconstruction expert was strategic, not ineffective.
Where the Case Stands Today
MTIP has filed a Notice of Appeal of Judge Larson’s ruling. We believe Judge Larson made several critical errors in his ruling, including his granting of the State’s pre-hearing motions; his incorrect application of controlling legal standards to the issues presented; and his incomplete and incorrect application of the facts to those standards. The appeal is pending before the Montana Supreme Court.