The Montana Innocence Project is seeking a new trial for Katie Irene Garding, a 28-year-old Stevensville woman who is serving a 40-year sentence for the New Year's Day 2008 vehicular homicide of Bronson Parsons.
Garding was convicted in 2011 based on the testimony of a jailhouse snitch and former boyfriend, who told investigators that she hit "something or someone" on her way through East Missoula in the early hours of New Year's Day.
However, the petition for post-conviction relief contends that no physical evidence links Garding to the crime, and further investigation and expert testimony actually points to her innocence.
"While this new evidence may not rise to the level to conclusively establish Garding's actual innocence, it does everything but that," court documents filed by the Innocence Project state. "Specifically, it establishes, in light of all the evidence, that Garding could not and did not cause the accident that resulted in Bronson Parsons' death. No reasonable juror, court, prosecutor or judicial fact-finder could find Garding guilty of the offense in light of the new and powerful evidence."
Parsons, a 25-year-old man originally from Troy, was walking along Montana Highway 200 in East Missoula with his roommate shortly before last call, when a sport utility vehicle swerved to the side of the road and killed him.
Garding and her former boyfriend, James Bordeaux, had been drinking throughout the day, but Garding denied striking anything with her car that night.
The case was cold for two years, until investigators pursued charges against Garding based in part on Bordeaux's jailhouse testimony that Garding had struck "something or someone" with her car that night.
"In exchange for his testimony, the state offered Bordeaux a plea deal whereby he would testify against Garding and plead guilty to burglary; in return, the state would recommend he receive a five-year suspended sentence," court documents filed by the Innocence Project state. "The possible (persistent felony offender) was not discussed or mentioned in the parties' written plea agreement."
It was only after obtaining Bordeaux's cooperation that prosecutors pursued charges against Garding, the documents contend.
"We are reviewing the petition and its merits and we anticipate filing a response to the merits in the near future," Chief Deputy County Attorney Jason Marks said Wednesday.
He was not able to field any more specific questions pertaining to the case.
The petition also argues prosecutors violated a court order to provide all evidence to the defense and Garding received ineffective counsel.
Further, the documents present the court with new evidence, including crash reconstruction, physical testing performed by experts and computer remodeling, along with expert testimony from six experts and companies.
"Had trial counsel secured the same or similar accident reconstruction experts, it is undeniable Garding would have been acquitted by the jury," Innocence Project attorneys said.
Throughout her trial and four years in prison, Garding has consistently maintained her innocence.
The state public defenders office filed an appeal with the Montana Supreme Court that was denied in 2013. In 2014, attorney Colin M. Stephens filed a writ of certiorari, asking the U.S. Supreme Court to review the case. That request was denied last October.