Brooklyn DA Vacates 81-Year-Old’s Murder Rap

     BROOKLYN (CN) — Making good on a 2-year-old campaign promise, the first black district attorney of New York’s largest borough said Monday he is clearing the name of the 20th person who went to prison on a wrongful conviction.
     Citing “a thorough investigation” by his Conviction Review Unit, District Attoreny Ken Thompson announced that his office is moving to vacate Paul Gatling’s second-degree murder conviction.
     Gatling was 29 in 1963 when he pleaded guilty to escape a possible death penalty. He is now 81.
     The murder occurred in Brooklyn’s then-rough-and-tumble-but-now-gentrifying neighborhood of Crown Heights.
     Lawrence Rothbort, his pregnant wife and two children had just finished dinner when a man walked into their art gallery and demanded money. Rothbort refused, and was fatally shot once in the chest. The painter and sculptor was 43.
     It took detectives one month to haul Gatling in for questioning, based on tips that he was in the vicinity when the murder occurred.
     The victim’s wife was nine months pregnant when she testified against Gaitling, but DA Thompson says she couldn’t point him out in a line-up.
     Rothbot’s 7-year-old son also made an unsworn testimony that he couldn’t identify the intruder, adding that “the man who killed his father was not in the courtroom,” Thompson said.
     “No physical evidence connected Gatling to the crime,” he added.
     Gatling’s attorney and family urged him to plead guilty to second-degree murder to avoid getting the death penalty, “fearing the jury sympathisized with the pregnant widow,” the statement by Thompson continues.
     Gaitlng got 30 years to life in prison in October 1964.
     On his last day in office, then-N.Y. Gov. Nelson Rockefeller commuted Gatling’s sentence at the insistence of the Legal Aid Society in 1973. Gatling was released in January 1974.
     Thompson’s move today clears Gatling’s name officially.
     The move is in line with the DA’s 2014 campaign promise to tackle, undo and fix wrongful convictions from years past.
     So far the DA’s Conviction Review Unit has pored over more than 100 cases and helped overturn at least 20 convictions. The unit’s review found at least 38 cases justified.
     “Paul Gatling repeatedly proclaimed his innocence even as he faced the death penalty back in the ’60s,” Thompson said. “He was pressured to plead guilty and, sadly, did not receive a fair trial.
     “Today, 52 years later, he will be given back his good name and receive justice here in Brooklyn, where he once called home,” the DA said.

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