Montana Innocence Project client Katie Garding was wrongfully convicted of Vehicular Homicide in 2013. Her conviction was overturned in March 2023 based on Ineffective Assistance of Counsel. She is living an impressive life in Billings as we await the next steps in her fight for innocence.
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 Bronson.
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. Because of the PFO designation, the Court could have sentenced him to 100 years. James made a plea deal with the State that he would testify against Katie and plead guilty to the burglary charge; in exchange, the State recommended that he receive only a five-year suspended sentence.
Katie was offered a plea deal that would result in a suspended sentence and no prison time. But she refused to admit guilt for something she did not do. 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 in 2013.
Katie Garding on being falsely accused and wrongfully convicted:
Arguments in support of her innocence
The Montana Supreme Court affirmed the conviction. Following her unsuccessful appeal, MTIP began investigating Katie’s case.
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, was 10 when Katie was wrongfully convicted. He lived with his grandparents during Katie’s wrongful incarceration. Her other son was just a baby when she had her trial; Katie selflessly gave him up for adoption upon being sentenced to prison.
Katie is a talented painter and sketch artist. She frequently sent her family art while she was in prison, and now that she is out on parole, Katie regularly works on her crafts and participates in art shows for formerly incarcerated people.
While wrongfully incarcerated, Katie became a member of Prison PAWS, 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 of 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 granted parole upon successful completion of a pre-release program. She completed a year at the Billing’s pre-release center, Passages, and was paroled in February 2022.
Katie uses the skills learned through Prison PAWS in her job at a veterinary office in Billings. She lives with her partner and their two dogs and spends much of her free time with her sister Chyrel and son Carson who recently relocated to Billings.
Where her case stands today:
In March 2023, the United States District Court for the District of Montana, Missoula Division found in favor of Katie her claim that she received ineffective assistance of counsel and overturned her conviction.
“I am so relieved that we have finally had a breakthrough,” Katie said. “I can not express how thankful I am to the Montana Innocence Project, as well as those who have stood beside me and supported me throughout this journey.”
The State Attorney General’s Office is appealing the decision to the Ninth Circuit, and Missoula County currently intends to move forward with a new trial. MTIP continues the fight for Katie’s innocence and will update supporters as these matters unfold.
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