81-year-old man cleared of murder after spending more than 50 years in prison

Paul Gatling served 10 years in jail for a murder he did not commit.

He was released in 1974 after the Legal Aid Society proved there was no way he pulled the trigger that killed Brooklyn-based artist Lawrence Rothbort in 1963.

But despite having his 30-year sentence commuted, the 81-year-old retired landscaper from Virginia has remained – at least on record – a convicted murderer ever since.

On Monday, after 50 years of limited citizenship, he was finally vindicated as Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson moved to overturn his conviction.

The moment was poignant, emotional and somber. The judge apologized and Gatling hugged his crying ex-wife and a friend.

‘There’s a lot of water gone under the bridge, but the bridge is still standing,’ Gatling, who walks with a cane, said after the court proceeding.

The moment was poignant, emotional and somber. The judge apologized and Gatling hugged his crying ex-wife  The moment was poignant, emotional and somber. The judge apologized and Gatling hugged his crying ex-wife

It came a year after Gatling asked Brooklyn’s Conviction Review Unit to look into his case.

His is now the 20th case that has been vacated in just two years since Thompson set up the groundbreaking crack team of researchers to investigate wrongful convictions.

‘Paul Gatling repeatedly proclaimed his innocence even as he faced the death penalty back in the 60s,’ Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson said.

‘He was pressured to plead guilty and, sadly, did not receive a fair trial.’

In Gatling’s case, he was jailed after a man who committed perjury in other cases identified him as the suspect.

Rothbort was shot in his Brooklyn home.

His wife told police that a man with a shotgun had entered the apartment and demanded money, shooting her husband when he refused. She provided a description, but no suspect was found.

Thompson said Gatling, 29 at the time, was questioned after another man said he saw him in the area.

That man was a witness in other cases and was known to have committed perjury, Thompson said, adding that other circumstances also led to Gatling not receiving a fair trial.

Rothbort’s wife, nine-months pregnant at the time of the trial, said Gatling was the man who had killed her husband, despite not being able to identify him in a line up previously.

No physical evidence tied him to the crime.

Defense attorneys were never given some police reports, including a description of the suspect as several years younger than Gatling.

Finally: Gatling emerges from court beaming on Monday. He is pictured with Malvina Nathanson, his lawyer since 1973. Gatling was accused of shooting dead a Brooklyn artist by a known perjurer  Finally: Gatling emerges from court beaming on Monday

Gatling’s attorney and family pressed him to plead guilty to second-degree murder, afraid that he would otherwise face the death penalty if convicted.

He agreed, and was sentenced to 30 years to life in prison in October 1964.

His sentence was commuted by then-Gov. Nelson Rockefeller at the behest of the Legal Aid Society and he was released in January 1974.

Gatling said he came from a civic-minded family and ‘this has stopped me from voting on every level.’

Source: The DailyMail

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