A hearing about whether a Stevensville woman’s 2011 conviction for vehicular homicide should be overturned has been delayed following a judge’s order.
Katie Irene Garding, found guilty of the New Year’s Day 2008 death of Bronson Parsons, who was hit and killed by a vehicle in East Missoula, filed a petition in 2015 challenging her conviction after the Montana Innocence Project took up her case.
A hearing was set for Friday on the merits of her allegations that her defense attorney did not do a competent job and that she was denied access to some evidence.
But on Thursday, District Court Judge John Larson issued an order that limited the ability of two witnesses to question the decisions made by public defender Jennifer Streano in representing Garding.
Colin Stephens, an attorney working with the Montana Innocence Project in Garding’s case, said the judge’s decision likely means the witnesses will only be allowed to talk about what an attorney should have done in a case. But they won’t be able to make legal conclusions about what could have happened if something else was done.
The hearing, which was scheduled to last through Tuesday, was cut short after a brief discussion about the judge’s order on Friday. Stephens said the hearing will likely be rescheduled for later in the spring.
Garding’s parents Robert and Lori, who came to court on Friday to support their daughter, said that while the delay is unfortunate, they have been assured it’s the right move.
“That’s what we’re looking for, the best possible case we can present,” her father said.
Her parents said they go to Billings once a month to visit Garding – who was brought to Missoula for the hearing – at the Montana Women’s Prison. After she was taken back to the Missoula County jail to await transport back to Billings, Garding called her parents about the next steps in the case.
She also asked if they could send her some money to buy clothing for the next hearing so she didn’t have to wear the street clothes supplied by the jail. The conversation was played on speaker phone for the benefit of a national NBC crew doing a story on Garding's case.
During a pre-hearing conference earlier in the week, Garding’s attorneys also brought up a series of photographs they wanted to include in Friday’s hearing. The photos were from a file that former state medical examiner Dr. Gary Dale put together in the investigation of Parsons’ death.
They depict scenes from a different vehicle-pedestrian fatal crash, and Dale allegedly told a Montana Innocence Project attorney he put them in Garding’s file because he thought the circumstances of that crash and the injuries of the victim were similar to Parsons’. The vehicle in that crash was a passenger car, as opposed to the SUV Garding had been driving. Dale also said the car in the other crash sustained significant damage to the windshield.
Using a vehicle identical to Garding's, the Montana Innocence Project re-created the crash that killed Parsons. The re-creation also found significant windshield damage occurred if a vehicle struck a pedestrian at the speed and angle at which Parsons was hit. Garding’s own vehicle did not have windshield damage.
Dale allegedly said the photos were added to the file after he testified in Garding’s trial, and the Montana Innocence Project said they were never turned over to her defense attorney. Stephens said the photos will be included in a new petition so they can be discussed during the next scheduled hearing.