HELENA, Montana — The Montana Innocence Project has asked a state judge to re-open the case of a Stevensville woman who is serving a 40-year sentence for the hit-and-run death of a pedestrian, saying new evidence shows that she could not have committed the crime.
Katie Garding was convicted in the 2008 New Year's Day hit-and-run that killed 25-year-old Bronson Parsons on the shoulder of U.S. Highway 200 near a bar in East Missoula. Witnesses described a dark sport-utility vehicle striking Parsons from behind, carrying him for a distance and then speeding off.
Garding's former boyfriend, James Bordeaux testified at trial that Garding struck Parsons while she was distracted by an argument between Bordeaux and another passenger. Boudreaux had been facing a burglary charge at the time of his testimony, and Garding's public defender argued that Bordeaux was motivated to falsely testify in hopes of receiving a more favorable sentence for himself.
The Montana Supreme Court rejected that and other arguments on appeal. The U.S. Supreme Court declined to take up her case last October.
This week, the Montana Innocence Project filed a petition in Missoula County district court asking the trial judge to take another look at Garding's case. The organization aims to exonerate inmates who have been wrongfully convicted.
"Katie Garding didn't do it," Montana Innocence Project attorney Larry Mansch said Thursday. "Somebody else got away with it."
The organization took up Garding's case about two years ago. They hired engineers to virtually and physically reconstruct the crash, something that Garding's trial lawyer and state prosecutors did not do.
The computer simulations tested scenarios with the vehicle traveling different speeds and the victim in different positions, and each test resulted that the vehicle would have sustained significant damage, Mansch said.
Last October, engineers conducted a physical test using a dummy of Parson's proportions and a 1994 Chevrolet Blazer like Garding's. That test also resulted in significant damage to the vehicle.
Garding's Blazer was not damaged, Mansch said.
"It is beyond a reasonable doubt that the 1994 Chevrolet S10 Blazer ... owned by Ms. Katie Garding on January 1, 2008, did not strike Mr. Bronson Parsons," mechanical engineer Harry Townes concluded in a statement filed with the petition.
The engineers concluded that the description of the hit-and-run described by Montana Highway Patrol troopers was physically impossible.
Mansch said the accident reconstruction should be considered newly discovered evidence that is grounds for re-examining Garding's conviction. He also argues that Garding's trial lawyer provided ineffective counsel by not hiring similar accident reconstruction experts.
Finally, Mansch argues that state prosecutors withheld medical evidence, including X-rays of the injuries to Parson's legs that could have helped Garding's case.
A petition for post-conviction relief, if accepted by the judge, could result in a hearing, a new trial or the release of a prisoner.
Neither Missoula County chief deputy attorney Jason Marks nor Department of Justice spokesman John Barnes immediately returned calls for comment.