Katie Garding of Stevensville has served seven years of a 40-year sentence in Montana State Prison for a crime she has always insisted she did not commit. The Montana Innocence Project filed an appeal on Garding’s behalf in 2015 asking for a new trial, alleging that Garding was not properly represented by counsel at the trial, that the state withheld medical evidence from the defense that could have been significant to her case, and based on newly discovered evidence.
It all started when 25-year-old Branson Parsons was walking along the roadside in East Missoula on New Year’s Eve 2008 about an hour and a half after midnight. He was struck from behind by a hit-and-run driver and the investigation remained unsolved for a couple of years.
Then in 2011, Garding was arrested and convicted of vehicular homicide, fleeing the scene of an injury accident, and driving without a valid driver’s license. She was sentenced to 40 years in prison primarily on the basis of her former boyfriend’s testimony that he was a passenger in Garding’s vehicle when she hit the man.
According to Legal Director Larry Mansch, the Montana Innocence Project solicited the first accident reconstruction study ever done in the case, and coupled with the initial accident report and investigation report, it proves that Garding’s vehicle was not involved in the hit-and-run. The appeal points out that witnesses interviewed at the scene had described seeing a “dark SUV.” It also shows that based on this description, Garding was stopped in the area of the incident by a highway patrolman who checked her car for signs of damage and found none and let her go.
According to the accident reconstruction report that they received, however, the hit-and-run vehicle would without a doubt have shown some visible signs of significant damage after striking a pedestrian with enough force to throw the victim almost 100 feet from the point of impact.
Mansch told KGVO news that the state has subsequently done its own accident reconstruction analysis in response to their filing and come up with an alternative explanation for what occurred.
Missoula County District Court Judge John Larson has rescheduled a hearing in the case for June 25 at 9 a.m.