BROOKLYN - More than 50 years after being wrongly convicted of second-degree murder, 81-year-old Paul Gatling was cleared of the charge Monday.

District Attorney Ken Thompson's Conviction Review Unit found that Gatling did not get a fair trial in the 1960s.

Gatling pleaded guilty to the murder of 43-year-old Lawrence Rothbort in 1964. The plea came as part of a deal to avoid the death penalty and Gatling says he spent the years thinking no one would believe he was actually innocent.

Rothbort was shot in the chest in his Crown Heights home.

Gatling, then 29, was arrested after a witness placed him at the scene.

Mark Hale, the head of the Conviction Review Unit, says the arrest never should have happened in the first place.

"He was subjected to some of the worst violations of due process we have seen," Hale says.

In 1973, former Gov. Nelson Rockefeller reduced Gatling's sentence to the 10 years he'd already served, but the conviction remained on his record.

Gatling says he plans to return to Virginia to spend time with his grandchildren. That also means Gatling's voting rights have been restored.

Gatling's is now the 20th conviction overturned in connection with Thompson's review unit. There are still 100 cases under scrutiny.