Man Cleared by TV Footage Gets $320,000


LOS ANGELES, March 8, 2007 — -- A man cleared of murder charges by outtakes from an episode of "Curb Your Enthusiasm" will receive $320,000 in the settlement of a lawsuit against the city of Los Angeles and its police force.

In August 2003, Juan Catalan, a 24-year-old father who worked in his family's machining business, was arrested for the murder of a 16-year-old girl.

Martha Puebla was allegedly gunned down outside her Sun Valley, Calif., home because she had testified in a gang murder case. Mario Catalan, the suspect's brother, was a co-defendant in that case.

But Juan Catalan said he was at a Los Angeles Dodgers baseball game -- not a drive-by shooting -- at the time of the murder. And he produced the ticket stubs to prove it. But that wasn't enough.

His offer to take a lie-detector test was refused. And the fact that he did not fit the description eyewitnesses gave of the shooter did not persuade prosecutors. The 24-year-old machinist was sent to jail to await trial for capital murder.

Needing more proof, Catalan remembered that a televison show was being filmed at the game against the Atlanta Braves the night of the murder. He also remembered that he had been "caught on tape."

"Juan remembered that Super Dave Osborne was one of the actors in the show," recalled defense attorney Todd Melnick during an appearance on "Good Morning America" in June 2004. "Then I contacted the Dodgers, who guided me to the HBO production "Curb Your Enthusiasm."

Melnick persuaded the producers to let him look at the episode "Carpool Lane" and its outtakes. The quirky day-in-the-life series centers on the misadventures of comedian Larry David, the lauded creator of "Seinfeld."

In the episode, David enlists the services of a prostitute -- not for sex, but as a passenger. The cagey comic wanted to use the carpool lane to avoid the clogged freeway full of fans headed to the Dodgers' game."

"I went through about 20 minutes of tape, and I was beginning to get disheartened because I didn't see Juan in any of the tapes," remembered Melnick. "And then, all of a sudden, there he was!"

In several shots, Juan Catalan is seen in the stands eating a hot dog or watching the game with his 6-year-old daughter.

"He [Melnick] did the job the police were suppose to have done and are paid to do," said Gary Casselman, the attorney representing Catalan in the police misconduct lawsuit.

"It was incompetence; they took the easy way out," said the civil rights attorney. "It is in their manual that they are supposed to check out an alibi or a defense."

While representatives for the Los Angeles City Council confirm the amount of the settlement, it does not come with any admission of wrongdoing on the part of police officers or the city.

Catalan still works in the family business, but Casselman suggested he remains traumatized by the five months he spent in jail wrongly accused.

Before his arrest for murder, Catalan said he never watched "Curb Your Enthusiasm." But after his release from jail, he became a devoted fan.

In 2004, Catalan told ABC's Brian Rooney how amazed he was at the events that led to his vindication.

"One of the crew members, he let me go in front of the camera," Catalan said. "I mean, if that's not a miracle, I don't know what is."