updated 2/8/2005 5:49:54 PM ET 2005-02-08T22:49:54

A man who went to prison two decades ago for setting his 6-year-old son on fire in a custody dispute was found guilty Tuesday of illegally possessing a gun — a conviction that could send him to prison for life.

Charley Charles, who was known as Charles Rothenberg when he burned his son in 1983, said he needed the gun as protection from vigilantes bent on retaliation for the crime against the boy, who grew to adulthood severely disfigured.

Charles, 64, testified that he bought the .38-caliber pistol in 1997 after he was shot at twice, once by a gunman who yelled, “That’s the man who burned his son!”

After deliberating for a day, a jury convicted him of being a felon in possession of a handgun and ammunition.

The case was tried under California’s tough three-strikes sentencing law, meaning Charles faces the possibility of life in prison.

Charles was convicted of attempted murder, arson and other charges for setting his son on fire and served 6½ years in prison. He said at the time that he was distraught over losing the boy to his estranged wife.

The boy suffered third-degree burns over 90 percent of his body.

Charles also has a 1961 burglary conviction in New York.

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