More than half a century after he says police pressured him into confessing to a crime he did not commit, 81-year-old Paul Gatling has finally cleared his name. On Monday, the Brooklyn District Attorney fully vacated Gatling’s wrongful 1964 conviction for murder, a crime for which he served 10 years in prison, The New York Times reports.
“Paul Gatling repeatedly proclaimed his innocence even as he faced the death penalty back in the 60s,” said the Brooklyn DA in a statement. “He was pressured to plead guilty and, sadly, did not receive 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.
As the trial was underway, 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.
“The cops told me they would make sure I was convicted and the lawyers said they were going to execute me,” Gatling told NBC News this week. “I was a young black man. With the white, pregnant wife in front of an all-white jury pointing me out, it was over.”
Only regaining his right to vote on Monday, Gatling now says he just wants to cast one more ballot before he dies.
“That’s a big deal for me,” Gatling told the news network. “I couldn’t vote for the first black president.”