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. 'Race of a lifetime': Natalie Morales gets ready to run Boston Marathon

      Natalie Morales is preparing to run the Boston Marathon for some very special causes. "For many of the runners here, emoti...

    2. Teen suspended for asking out Miss America: 'I knew' I would get in trouble
    3. Girlfriend of MH370 passenger: Families 'going to get noisier'
    4. Rossen Reports: How reliable are eyewitnesses?
    5. Latin music superstar Juanes lights up TODAY plaza with 'universal language'

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. 'Race of a lifetime': Natalie Morales gets ready to run Boston Marathon

    “For many of the runners here, emotions and spirits are high," Natalie told the anchors Monday morning. 

    4/21/2014 11:41:34 AM +00:00 2014-04-21T11:41:34
  2. video Boston Marathon victim’s sister ‘ready to run’

    video Carmen Acabbo, whose sister Celeste Corcoran lost her legs last year during the Boston Marathon bombings, tells TODAY’s Natalie Morales that she’s ready to run the race as her sister, now using prosthetic legs, is expected to join her toward the finish line.

    4/21/2014 1:01:57 PM +00:00 2014-04-21T13:01:57
  3. TODAY
  1. TODAY

    video ‘Voice’ coaches reveal how they work together

    4/21/2014 1:35:35 PM +00:00 2014-04-21T13:35:35
  1. How reliable are eyewitnesses? Jeff Rossen investigates

    video Jeff Rossen asks people who’ve witnessed a set-up crime to identify the perpetrator, and the results are surprising.

    4/21/2014 12:15:53 PM +00:00 2014-04-21T12:15:53
  2. How to train yourself to be a better eyewitness