Tuesday, May 3, 2016

The Long Overdue Righting of a Wrong

Courage is not a man with a gun in his hand.
It's knowing you're licked before you begin
but you begin anyway and you see it through
no matter what.  You rarely win, 
but sometimes you do. 
- Atticus Finch

It took fifty-two years for Paul Gatling to achieve his hard-earned and well-deserved "W".  Nine of those years were spent in state prison in the State of New York, serving a 30-to-life sentence for an October 15, 1963 murder he did not commit, which sentence was the result of a guilty plea he entered on the advice of his counsel during his murder trial.  It bears noting that in the 1960's, the death penalty was an available punishment in the State of New York and had Gatling been convicted by the jury, he stood a reasonable likelihood of being sentenced to death in the electric chair.   

In 1974, New York's Governor, Nelson Rockefeller, commuted his sentence.  He was paroled in 1975.  But his name was never cleared.  As a convicted felon, Paul Gatling was ineligible to do simple things that many of us likely take for granted - such as vote.  

This November, even if he stands in the voting booth and holds his nose in a manner similar to countless other American citizens, Paul Gatling shall finally get the chance to vote.  He is now eighty-one years old, retired from his career and living in Hampton, Virginia.  On Monday, May 2, 2016, Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson formally vacated Paul Gatling's conviction.  In doing so, District Attorney Thompson recognized that fifty-plus years ago, Paul Gatling might have had a trial but he never even got a whiff of justice.   Not being the owner of a WABAC Machine, Mr. Thompson lacks the ability to right the wrong visited upon Paul Gatling.  Nevertheless he did all that is within his ability to do to do right by him now.  

Before he was an retired octogenarian living in Virginia, before he was a landscaper, and before he was wrongfully prosecuted for and convicted of a murder he did not commit, Paul Gatling was a member of the United States Armed Forces, having served this nation in the Korean War.   Little could he have suspected while he was overseas that he would one day face enemies at home in Brooklyn who were more powerful and more hell-bent on his destruction than even those he faced there.  

And little could they have suspected that he would be tough enough to outlast them all.  It took a hell of a long time - longer than it should have - but at day's end, through his incredible perseverance, he prevailed.  


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