Brooklyn Conviction Review Unit Reverses Wrongful Conviction from 50+ Years Ago

05.02.16 By Innocence Project Staff

Brooklyn Conviction Review Unit Reverses Wrongful Conviction from 50+ Years Ago

According to an article published in Sunday’s New York Times, the Conviction Review Unit under Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson will reverse the 1964 murder conviction of 81-year-old Paul Gatling on Monday.

Gatling spent nine years in prison for the 1963 murder of Lawrence Rothbort, an artist shot by an intruder in his Crown Heights, Brooklyn, home, which he shared with this wife and two young children. Although Gatling had a solid alibi, he was implicated by one of Rothbort’s neighbors who said he saw Gatling in the neighborhood shortly before Rothbort was killed. And several days after the murder, the victim’s wife identified Gatling as the murderer when she saw him at the police precinct, even though just days prior she didn’t pick him out of a lineup, even as the investigators conducting the lineup instructed her to focus on him specifically.

Given the potentially steep punishment he faced—the electric chair—Gatling pleaded guilty at the urging of his attorneys, but asked to withdraw his plea days later; the court, however, declined his petition. Gatling was sentenced to 30 years to life in prison. In 1973, after many unsuccessful appeals, he was released on parole after then-Governor Nelson Rockefeller commuted his sentence.

In the decades that followed, Gatling, who eventually relocated to Virginia, remained angry over being punished for what he and his attorney say he did not do. It was at his written request that the Brooklyn Conviction Review Unit recently reopened his case for investigation.

“I want to be done with all of this,” Gatling said to the New York Times.

Based on that investigation, the unit believes that there is sufficient evidence to indicate that Gatling deserved to have his case overturned. According to the Times, the unit found “that Mr. Gatling had been denied many of the legal protections that defendants take for granted these days—the presence of a lawyer during questioning. . . . [and] perhaps more important, they also found an alternate theory of the case that the jury never heard,” which implies that Rothbort’s murder could have been the result of serious marital problems.

The unit has exonerated 19 people under the leadership of Ken Thompson, including Innocence Project client Andre Hatchett.

Related: Andre Hatchett’s Murder Conviction Reversed After Serving 25 Years



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