Paul Gatling, an 81-year-old man from Virginia, was on Monday fully exonerated after being wrongfully convicted of murder in 1986.
Gatling was exonerated by a Brooklyn District Attorney, Ken Thompson at the request of a prosecutor. He has now been cleared of the convictions, and wants to cast his vote in November’s presidential ballot before he passes away.
Brooklyn’s chief prosecutor grasped the arm of wrongfully convicted Gatling and speaking softly, offered him an apology saying;
“I want to apologize to you for what happened to you. I’m sorry.”
Gatling bowed his head and held back tears. He accepted the apology he’d awaited for more than 50 years for. Speaking with pressmen after his exoneration, Gatling says voting in November is a big deal for him since he couldn’t vote for the first black president.
He spent nine years in prison for the murder of Lawrence Rothbort, a Brooklyn artist in Crown Heights home, and received a reduced sentence thanks to the Legal Aid Society, but remained a convicted murderer for most of his life.
Gatling’s ordeal began on Oct. 15, 1963 when a gunman burst into the home of a well-known Brooklyn artist named Lawrence Rothbort and killed him with a shotgun blast.
Fingered as a possible suspect by a felon, the then 29-year-old decorated Korean War veteran found himself being grilled by detectives even though the only eyewitness — Rothbort’s pregnant wife Marlene — could not, at first, pick him out of a lineup. Paul Gatling repeatedly proclaimed his innocence even as he faced the death penalty back in the 60s, he was pressured to plead guilty and, sadly, did not receive a fair trial.
In Gatling’s words;
“The cops told me they would make sure I was convicted and the lawyers said they were going to execute me, I was a young black man. With the white, pregnant wife in front of an all-white jury pointing me out, it was over.”
So at the urging of his family and lawyer, Gatling pleaded guilty to avoid the electric chair and was hit with a 30-years to life sentence and sent to Attica.
Working with the Legal Aid Society, his sentence was commuted in 1973 by then-New York Gov. Nelson Rockefeller. Gatling was free from prison, but not from the burden of conviction or felony status in the eyes of the law.
But Gatling continued to insist on his innocence and got the help of a young Legal Aid lawyer named Malvina Nathanson. The exoneration marks the 20th time in two years the Conviction Review Unit has cleared a wrongfully convicted person in Brooklyn.