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 Katie 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 hit Parsons.
In April 2010, the State of Montana charged Katie with Vehicular Homicide, Leaving the Scene of an Accident, and Driving Without a Valid Driver’s License. At the time, James Bordeaux, Katie’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. James made a plea deal with the State that he would testify against Katie 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.
The case went to trial in June 2011. Katie 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 Katie’s case.
Katie Garding on being falsely accused and wrongfully convicted:
Arguments in support of her innocence
Three arguments emerged in support of her innocence: (1) the State violated Katie’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 Katie’s car could not have been responsible for Bronson’s death due to its lack of damage; (2) Katie’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 Katie’s car could not have caused Bronson’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; the court 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 argued that the Montana Supreme Court incorrectly applied federal law. Specifically, MTIP argued 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 Katie 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.
Katie Garding on working with MTIP:
Katie is a daughter, sister, mom, artist, and dog-lover.
Her oldest son, Carson, is 18-years-old and has lived with his grandparents since Katie’s wrongful incarceration. Her other son was just a baby when she was wrongfully convicted; she selflessly gave him up for adoption upon being sentenced to prison.
Katie is a talented artist. She frequently sends her family paintings.
She was also a member of the Prison PAWS program at the Montana Women’s Prison where she trained dogs and mentored other women in the program. Katie was in the program from 2014 to early 2021.
“It’s a dog training facility, but it’s kind of a little bit more about us—it’s rehabilitating us to be productive members in society,” Katie said. “It’s really cool because we’re giving back to the community and keeping dogs in their homes, and then at the end of the month, we get to meet the dog’s parents. We spend a couple of hours with them talking about their training.”
In October 2020, Katie was up for parole. She was not granted parole, but she was recommended pre-release. She was accepted into the women’s community correctional facility, Passages, in Billings, and in February 2021, she signed papers accepting her bed.
The Garding family was overjoyed following the announcement of pre-release because parents always feared they would die before she was released.
In December 2021, Katie was granted parole upon the completion of the Passages program. While this is great news, we do not believe she should be under DOC supervision at all. We believe she is innocent. MTIP will continue its work to secure Katie’s freedom and to overturn her conviction.
Listen to her dad’s song “See You Through:”