1. Headline
  1. Headline

Video: 'Curb' helps free man

updated 6/3/2004 3:16:03 PM ET 2004-06-03T19:16:03

“Curb Your Enthusiasm,” an HBO show known for its acerbic wit, accidentally helped deliver a happy ending to a man who had been charged with murder.

Juan Catalan spent 5½ months in jail on murder charges before his attorney found video footage taken by the show at Dodger Stadium that backs up his client’s claims of innocence.

Police arrested Catalan in August, alleging he killed Martha Puebla, 16, in the San Fernando Valley on May 12, 2003, because she had testified against his brother in another case.

Catalan insisted he and his 6-year-old daughter were watching the Los Angeles Dodgers lose to the Atlanta Braves, 11-4, minutes before Puebla was killed about 20 miles north of the stadium.

  1. More from TODAY.com
    1. Snyderman: Ebola patient coming to US ‘not a risk’

      NBC News chief medical editor Dr. Nancy Snyderman says that bringing an American who contracted Ebola in West Africa to Am...

    2. Mosquitoes 1 - Kerry Sanders 0: Kerry in good spirits after 300-plus bug bites
    3. Fresh Cooks Live: Asian grilled ribs that are fingerlickin' good
    4. Baby boy doll with realistic-looking penis shocks some parents
    5. Happy dance! Check out this couple's fun sign language 'Grease' performance

He said he had ticket stubs from the game and testimony from his family as to his whereabouts the night Puebla was killed. But police still believed he was responsible, saying they had a witness who placed Catalan at the scene of the slaying.

Catalan said he asked to take a lie detector test, but was refused.

Defense attorney Todd Melnik subpoenaed the Dodgers and Fox Networks, which owned the team then, to scan videotape of the televised baseball game and footage from its “Dodger Vision” cameras. Some of the videotapes showed where Catalan was sitting but Melnik couldn’t make him out.

Saved by comedy
Melnik later learned that HBO had been at the stadium the night of the killing to tape an episode of “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” a self-deprecating comedy starring “Seinfeld” co-creator Larry David. The lawyer found what he was looking for in footage that had not made the final cut.

“I got to one of the scenes, and there is my client sitting in a corner of the frame eating a hot dog with his daughter,” Melnik said. “I nearly jumped out of my chair and said, ‘There he is!”’

The tapes had time codes that allowed Melnik to find out exactly when Catalan was at the ballpark. Melnik also obtained cell phone records that placed his client near the stadium later that night, about 20 minutes before the murder.

The attorney said it would have been impossible for Catalan to get out of the parking lot, change vehicles and clothing and play with his daughter as well as kill Puebla during that span.

Catalan, who could have faced the death penalty had he been convicted of murder, was released in January because a judge ruled there was no evidence to try him.

“To hear the words from the judge’s mouth, I just broke down in tears,” Catalan, 26, said Tuesday. “It was the happiest moment in my life.”

Catalan, now raising his family and working with his father as a machinist, has submitted a claim against the city of Los Angeles, alleging false imprisonment, misconduct and defamation of character. Puebla’s murder remains unsolved and the case against Catalan’s brother, who is accused of being the driver in a drive-by shooting, is still pending.

Prosecutors and police did not return calls seeking comment Tuesday.

Other evidence also helped dismiss the case against Catalan, but the videotape “had extreme dramatic effect,” Melnick said.

The show was hardly about the ballpark crowd that night. It focused on David hiring a prostitute, not for sex but to be a passenger in his car so he could travel in the carpool lane and escape traffic on his way to the stadium.

© 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Discuss:

Discussion comments

,

More on TODAY.com

  1. TODAY

    video Snyderman: Ebola patient coming to US ‘not a risk’

    8/1/2014 11:31:25 AM +00:00 2014-08-01T11:31:25
  1. Gaza cease-fire lasts less than two hours

    A three-day Gaza cease-fire that began Friday quickly unraveled, with Israel suggesting one of its soldiers may have been kidnapped by militants and at least 35 Palestinians killed by shells. 

    8/1/2014 10:19:48 AM +00:00 2014-08-01T10:19:48
  1. Want to kick a habit? The 6 best goal-tracking apps to kick your butt

    Sometimes vision boards aren't enough to get you off your duff and into the gym or stop you from gulping another soda. What some of us need is a real kick in the pants every time we screw up.

    8/1/2014 11:42:24 AM +00:00 2014-08-01T11:42:24
  1. From soda to negative talk: Join TODAY for a #30DayDetox of bad habits

    So, here we go! I'm signing off — and it's time for you to join me on my #30DayDetox.

    8/1/2014 11:40:20 AM +00:00 2014-08-01T11:40:20