Juan Catalan loves baseball and the hit HBO show Curb Your Enthusiasm, which is not surprising considering that both had played a pivotal role in clearing him of a murder charge.
A new Netflix documentary Long Shot, available for streaming beginning September 29, tells the unlikely tale of how comedian Larry David helped Catalan regain his freedom by furnishing his lawyer with outtakes from an episode of his show that placed the accused man at the Los Angeles Dodger Stadium on the day of the murder in 2003.
Catalan’s six-month-long nightmare began unfolding in August 2003 when then-24-year-old machinist from Los Angeles was arrested for the drive-by shooting of 16-year-old Martha Puebla, who was a witness in another gang-related murder case, in which Juan’s brother was a co-defendant.
Pretty, pretty, pretty good: Juan Catalan, pictured left in 2004, owes his freedom to comedian Larry David (right) and his HBO series, which played a key role in clearing him of a murder charge
Juan Catalan, left, and his attorney Todd Melkin hold screenshots from footage shot by Curb Your Enthusiasm film crew at the Los Angeles Dodger Stadium on the night of a teen’s killing, with which Catalan had been charged
From the outset, Catalan maintained that he had an alibi: on the night of the murder, May 12, 2003, he took his six-year-old daughter to the Dodger Stadium to watch a game against the Atlanta Braves.
Catalan produced ticket stubs from the game and offered on three separate occasions to undergo a polygraph test, but prosecutors rejected his alibi, refused to administer a lie detector test and pressed on with building a capital murder case against him, which, had he been convicted, could have landed him on death row.
While awaiting trial in jail, Catalan recalled that there was a film crew shooting something during the Dodgers-Braves game on the fateful night of Puebla’s murder.
‘I wasn’t supposed to be at that game, and that would replay in my head over and over,’ Catalan says in the trailer for the new Netflix documentary.
Martha Puebla, 16, was killed in San Fernando Valley, California, on May 12, 2003 (pictured), just 10 dasy before she was set to testify agaisnt a gang member
On the same night, Catalan, then aged 24, took his six-year-old daughter to a Dodgers-Atlanta Braves game (pictured) at Dodger Stadium
Wrongly accused: Catalan produced ticket stubs from the game and offered on three separate occasions to undergo a polygraph test, but prosecutors rejected his alibi
During an appearance on Good Morning America in 2004, Catalan’s defense attorney Todd Melnick recounted that his client remembered that ‘Super Dave Osbourne’ – a character created and played by comedian Bob Einstein – was part of the show that was being filmed at the ballpark, reported ABC News
Armed with that clue, Melnick reached out to the Dodgers, who, in turn, told him to contact the HBO production of Larry David’s Curb Your Enthusiasm, which was in its fourth season in 2003.
The attorney convinced David, the celebrated creator of Seinfeld, to help him look through unaired footage from the episode titled ‘The Carpool Lane.’
David explains in the Long Shot trailer that the crux of the episode was that his character picks up a prostitute so he could use the carpool lane and takes her to Dodger Stadium.
Melnick proceeded to look through tape after tape recorded at the sporting venue, which on the night of the murder was packed with 56,000 fans, one of whom was he client.
‘I gotta find the Holy Grail of Juan’s defense,’ Melnick recalls telling himself. ‘I need to place my client at Dodger Stadium on that night.’
Defender: Catalan’s defense attorney Todd Melnick reached out to HBO and Larry David, asking to review outtakes from footage shot on May 12, 2003, at the LA ballpark
Headed to death row: Catalan was charged with capital murder and, if convicted, could have been sentenced to death
After reviewing the footage for some time, with David at his side in the editing bay, Melnick was stunned when he spotted a familiar figure in the corner of the screen, eating a hot dog and watching the game with his daughter.
‘I jumped out of my chair and said, “Roll that tape back!”’ Melnick told Court TV, as reported by CNN. ‘It was him.’
in January 2004, after spending more than five months behind bars for a murder he did not commit, a judge released Catalan, citing insufficient evidence to take him to trial.
Against all odds: After reviewing the footage from the stadium, Melnick spotted his client in the stands, eating a hot dog and watching the game
‘This experience was a nightmare,’ he told Courttv.com. ‘It was the worst time of my life.’
Catalan later sued the City of Los Angeles and the LAPD, claiming false imprisonment, misconduct and defamation of character, and in March 2007 he reached a $320,000 settlement in the civil case.
A year later, Jose Ledesma, a member of the notorious Vineland Boyz street gang, was sentenced to life in prison after pleading guilty to a slew of crimes, among them ordering the murder of Martha Puebla, who was shot dead 10 days before she was scheduled to testify against him, reported Mercury News in 2008.
Prior to his arrest, Juan Catalan he never watched Curb Your Enthusiasm, but after his release from jail, he said became an avid fan of the series.
As for David, he quipped at the time that he was quitting his show ‘to devote the rest of my life to freeing those unjustly incarcerated.’
Curb Your Enthusiasm returns to HBO for Season 9 on September 16.
Catalan is seen in the trailer for Netflix’s Long Shot, standing in the stands at Dodger Stadium more than a dozen years after his arrest