Montana Innocence Project current client Katie Garding told her story at a live storytelling event in Missoula on June 27. Her story was one of seven selected to be performed at Tell Us Something’s “Didn’t See That Coming” showcase.
Based in Missoula, Tell Us Something works with storytellers to inspire more understanding, acceptance, and empathy in communities. Each event has a different theme and features between seven and eight storytellers who were chosen from a pool of story pitches. Stories are 10 minutes long and performed without notes.
Katie was wrongfully convicted of a 2011 vehicular homicide in East Missoula. Ineffective assistance of counsel and incentivized witness testimony were contributing factors in her case. She spent 10 years incarcerated at the Montana Women’s Prison for a crime she did not commit and was paroled earlier this year. This was her first time sharing her experience at a live, in-person event.
Hundreds of people attended. Katie began her story by remarking on her relationship with James Bordeaux, her former partner that falsely testified against her in exchange for leniency in his own case. She spoke about how everyone can relate to being young and in love and told the story of going out on a New Year’s night in her early 20s.
Katie then juxtaposed this relatable aspect of her story with the experience of wrongful conviction–learning she was suspected of a crime she had no knowledge of and that her former partner was lying about her involvement, getting offered a plea deal of five years suspended, and ultimately being found guilty and sentenced to the maximum time in prison of 40 years. At the end of her story, Katie talked about the Montana Innocence Project and the prevalence of wrongful convictions based on incentivized testimony.
Katie was the only storyteller to receive a standing ovation. Multiple audience members came up to her following the event to express their gratitude for getting to hear her incredible story. Tell Us Something creator Marc Moss told MTIP that one attendee who has been coming to their storytelling events for over 10 years said this was his favorite story.
“Honestly the whole experience was surreal,” Katie said. “I have always imagined myself telling my story to a group of people, but never thought I would actually get the chance. I was extremely nervous because you never know how people are going to react to a story like this, but the fact that everyone was so supportive even during my story gave me so much relief and I was so grateful for them.”
Click here to listen to the audio recording of Katie at the Tell Us Something event.