LOS ANGELES, CA — On May 12, 2003, Juan Catalan, 24, caught a game at Dodgers Stadium. His entire life, Catalan loved baseball, loved the team, and had been out to see them on countless occasions.
This time, though, the Dodgers match up against the Atlanta Braves really mattered. It ultimately saved Juan Catalan’s life — with the help of HBO’s Curb Your Enthusiasm and the comedy series’ bitterly hilarious star, Larry David.
On that fateful spring evening, while Catalan sat watching the Braves beat his hometown favorites, someone in the San Fernando Valley executed Martha Puebla in a drive-by shooting.
The 16-year-old victim had been scheduled to testify in a gang-related murder case involving Catalan’s brother.
Eyewitnesses described the shooter as male, but many did not get a good look at his face. One witness, however, named Juan Catalan as the killer. LAPD officers then arrested Catalan for first-degree murder.
Catalan knew he had an alibi and believed he could prove it. He produced ticket stubs from the game, which he attended with his daughter, and volunteered three times to take a polygraph test.
The prosecutors, however, weren’t interested and instead zealously put together and pursued a capital murder case against Catalan. If a jury were to find him guilty, Catalan very seriously could face the death penalty.
Todd Melnick, Catalan’s defense attorney, racked his brain to otherwise prove where his client was when the murder occurred. He said he remembers thinking:
“I’ve got to find the Holy Grail of Juan’s defense. I need to place my client at Dodger Stadium on that night!”
The lawyer scoured the TV broadcast video, but couldn’t pick Catalan out of the crowd of 56,000. He then asked if Catalan had seen anyone or anything of note. Catalan replied that, yes, “Super Dave Osborne” was at the game.
Super Dave Osborne is a comedic stuntman character created and portrayed by Bob Einstein. The actor, in fact, was at Dodger Stadium that night, filming scenes for Curb Your Enthusiasm, on which he plays Marty Funkhouser, a friendly nemesis of star Larry David.
The episode, titled “The Carpool Lane,” chronicles David picking up a street prostitute so that he can us the multi-passenger freeway option en route to go watch the Dodgers.
Once Melnick put all that together, he reached out to Larry David. The funnyman happily turned over the time-coded video footage shot for the show. Melnick combed through the outtakes and, indeed, spotted Catalan among the fans. He recalls:
“I jumped out of my chair and said, ‘Roll that tape back!’ It was him!”
The following January, after Catalan had spent nearly six months behind bars with a lethal injection looming in his future, a judge cut the suspect loose, citing lack of evidence.
In 2005, authorities arrested and convicted José Ledesma, a member of the Vineland Boyz street gang, for the murder of Martha Puebla.
Catalan sued the City of Los Angeles and the LAPD for false imprisonment and defamation and won $320,000. He said he had never watched Curb Your Enthusiasm before (noting, “I didn’t even have HBO!”), but he’s since become a devoted viewer.
Larry David issued a statement in which he said he was glad to have helped established the truth. Of course, with Larry being Larry, it ended with the tongue-in-cheek declaration:
“I’m quitting the show to devote the rest of my life to freeing those unjustly incarcerated.”
Long Shot (2017), an acclaimed documentary about Juan Catalan’s unique road to clearing his name, debuts September 29 on Netflix. Curb Your Enthusiasm returns to HBO for season nine on October 1.
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Main photos: From left — Todd Melnick, Juan Catalan, Larry David / “Long Shot” YouTube trailer [screenshots]