After years of maintaining his innocence for a murder he didn’t commit, Paul Gatling was finally exonerated of a conviction that haunted him for over 50 years.
MSNBC reports the 81-year-old retired landscaper was relinquished of the 1964 murder conviction by Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson in New York on Monday (May 2). “Paul Gatling repeatedly proclaimed his innocence even as he faced the death penalty back in the 60s,” Thompson said in a statement. “He was pressured to plead guilty and, sadly, did not receive a fair trial.”
Gatling was nearly given the death penalty for the shooting of artist Lawrence Rothbort in Crown Heights. The well-known artist was shot in the chest when a gunman burst into the home he shared with his wife Marlene Rothbort. Gatling, a 29-year-old Korean War veteran at the time, was accused of the crime after a witness claimed he was in the area when the shooting happened. Despite his solid alibi from his landlord (he was paying his rent at the time of the shooting) he was arrested and forced to plead guilty in the middle of the trial.
Other factors came to light during the case to the court including how detectives coerced a pregnant Rothbort into focusing on “the tall one” during the line-up, The New York Times reports. “The cops told me they would make sure I was convicted and the lawyers said they were going to execute me,” Gatling said. “I was a young black man. With the white, pregnant wife in front of an all-white jury pointing me out, it was over.”
In 1964, a year after the murder, Gatling was given a 30-years to life sentence. It wasn’t until a Legal Aid lawyer named Malvina Nathanson came across his case and believed something was wrong. After advocating for Gatling, he was released from prison in 1974 but was stigmatized for his wrongful conviction. Due to Thompson’s Conviction Review Unit (CRU) plan that allows the court to look over questionable convictions, he contacted Nathanson once again for help.
Upon review, many holes were revealed in the case including Gatling’s right to have a lawyer present during questioning and an affair Rothbort was having with a musician she allowed to live in their home, opening another motive for the murder.
What Gatling is the most excited about is regaining his right to vote in the upcoming election.
“That’s a big deal for me,” Gatling said. “I couldn’t vote for the first black president.”
Take a look at Gatling’s story below.