The Montana Supreme Court on Friday upheld the conviction of a Stevensville woman who was found guilty of the hit-and-run death of a pedestrian in East Missoula in early 2008.
Katie Garding, 27, was sentenced to 40 years in prison in 2011 for hitting and killing 25-year-old Bronson Parsons as he walked with a friend along Montana Highway 200 in the early morning hours of Jan. 1, 2008.
Seeking a new trial in the case, Garding argued that her public defender had not been allowed to properly cross-examine her boyfriend, James Bordeaux, about his testimony and whether it was offered in exchange for a reduced sentence in a separate burglary charge he was facing.
Rejecting that claim, the Supreme Court found that Garding’s public defender had been given “sufficiently wide latitude” when cross-examining Bordeaux, and it found no evidence that his plea agreement had injured the trial.
Garding also argued that her conviction had resulted in part from the District Court’s suppression of testimony given by a forensic pathologist regarding muscle tearing sustained by Parsons.
Garding claimed that the court’s decision prejudiced her when it barred the jury from properly evaluating whether her bumper “could have or could not have” caused the muscle tearing in Parsons’ legs, consequently preventing her from giving a complete defense.
On that argument, the Supreme Court found that the forensic pathologist had, in fact, been allowed to present the most critical aspects of his testimony, including his belief that Garding’s vehicle had not caused the muscle tearing suffered by the victim.
The case stems back to a cold January night in 2008 when Garding and Bordeaux met up with Paul McFarling and headed to East Missoula, drinking Black Velvet and smoking marijuana along the way.
After midnight, the trio drove to Red’s Bar in Missoula and stayed until 1:30 a.m. When returning to East Missoula, McFarling pulled out a gun and proceeded to show it off.
According to Bordeaux’s testimony, the gun distracted Garding and she swerved off the road, hitting Parsons from behind at roughly 1:40 a.m.
Bordeaux, who was sitting in the front passenger seat, said he turned to see a person “flying through the air,” and he claims that Garding stated, “I hit somebody.”
Instead of stopping, Garding drove back to Missoula and stayed at McFarling’s house. Parsons remained on his back in the roadway and died of blunt force injuries.
During her trial, Garding admitted she had been drinking with friends, but maintained that she was not driving the vehicle that hit Parsons.
The charges against her were based in part on a tip from a jailhouse informant and were not filed until March 2010, roughly two years after the 2008 accident.
In exchange for his own testimony, Bordeaux was offered a plea deal on the charge of burglary.