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Montana Innocence Project client Katie Garding is applying for commutation. She is facing challenges proving her innocence while also facing a pandemic in prison. This toolkit provides an overview of her case as well as templates for letters you can write on behalf of her effort to seek release and social media posts asking for supporters of her release to sign a petition. Join us in demanding justice for Katie!

Background Information about Katie Garding’s Case: 

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 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. 

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.  

Letter Templates:

My name is [NAME] from [COUNTY]. I am writing to strongly urge you to release Katie Garding from the Montana Women’s Prison where she has been wrongfully incarcerated for nearly 10 years. Her claims of innocence combined with her being an exemplary inmate make her immediate release appropriate. [ADD PERSONALIZED COMMENTS ABOUT WHY YOU THINK SHE SHOULD BE RELEASED]. Act now, and release Katie! Thank you. 

***Important*** 

Email all letters to Montana Innocence Project Legal Director, Caiti Carpenter, at caiti@mtinnocenceproject.org so she can compile them to present to the Montana Board of Pardons and Parole. 

Please include in the email your first and last name as well as your physical address so the body reviewing Katie’s application for executive clemency can contact you if needed.

Download the photo below for social media posts: 

Twitter Posts:

Option 1: Katie Garding is innocent. Her ex-partner implicated her in exchange for leniency in his burglary case. Sign the petition to show your support for Katie’s release! 

Link to petition: chng.it/kmzj5nGFSr

#Release KatieGarding #JusticeforKatieGarding 

Option 2: Katie Garding is innocent. She was convicted of a hit-and-run, but her attorney never consulted with an accident reconstructionist. Sign the petition to show your support for Katie’s release! 

Link to petition: chng.it/kmzj5nGFSr

#Release KatieGarding #JusticeforKatieGarding 

Option 3: Katie Garding did not get a fair trial because the State failed to turn over evidence to her attorney that would have supported her innocence. Sign the petition to show your support for Katie’s release! 

Link to petition: chng.it/kmzj5nGFSr

#Release KatieGarding #JusticeforKatieGarding 

Option 4: Katie Garding is sitting in the Montana Women’s Prison during a pandemic for a crime she did not commit. Sign the petition to show your support for Katie’s release! 

Link to petition: chng.it/kmzj5nGFSr

#Release KatieGarding #JusticeforKatieGarding 

Option 5: The wrongful incarceration of Katie Garding needs to end. She should not have to spend one more day in prison for something she did not do. Sign the petition to show your support for Katie’s release! 

Link to petition: chng.it/kmzj5nGFSr

 #Release KatieGarding #JusticeforKatieGarding 

Instagram/Facebook Posts: 

Option 1: Katie Garding was wrongfully convicted of vehicular homicide 10 years ago, and she is still sitting in prison as an innocent person. Arguments in support of her innocence include: (1) Her ex-partner implicated her in exchange for leniency in his own burglary case. (2) She was convicted of a hit-and-run, but her attorney never consulted with an accident reconstructionist to determine whether that was possible; years later, the Montana Innocence Project did just that, and experts unanimously agree it defies the laws of physics that Katie’s car hit a pedestrian. (3) She did not get a fair trial because the State of Montana failed to turn over critical evidence to her attorney that could have supported her innocence. Sign the petition to show your support for Katie’s release! 

Link to petition: chng.it/kmzj5nGFSr

#Release KatieGarding #JusticeforKatieGarding #EndWrongfulImprisonment #MTIPCommutation 

Option 2: Katie Garding is innocent and sitting in the Montana Women’s Prison during a pandemic. Her wrongful incarceration needs to end. She should not have to spend one more day in prison for something she did not do. Sign the petition to show your support for Katie’s release! 

Link to petition: chng.it/kmzj5nGFSr

#Release KatieGarding #JusticeforKatieGarding #EndWrongfulImprisonment #MTIPCommutation