Juan Ignacio Catalan was born in Los Angeles in 1978. His older brother Mario was a petty crook and troublemaker, and Juan found himself caught up in his brother’s criminal activities, even getting arrested for being Mario’s getaway driver.
That was the first time I was booked. I really wanted that to be my last time going to jail.
— Juan Catalan, from the Netflix documentary “Long Shot”
Night Out at a Dodgers Game
On May 12, 2003, Juan Catalan went to the ballpark with his friends and his young daughter to watch his favorite team, the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Juan wasn’t happy that night because the Atlanta Braves beat the Dodgers 11–4. But going to that game, on the same night that Larry David filmed a scene for his HBO show Curb Your Enthusiasm at Dodger Stadium, was one of the best things that ever happened to Juan Catalan.
Jose Ledesma Orders A Hit
Jose Ledesma, a member of the Vineland Boyz gang, was being questioned about a mur*der charge. Juan Rodriguez, an LAPD detective, faked Martha Puebla’s name and witness statement on a “six-pack” photo array, which showed Ledesma’s picture in a circle.
Finally, Ledesma gave the order to kill Martha for “dropping a dime” (telling the police something). This call was recorded, but LAPD detective Martin Pinner didn’t listen to it as part of his investigation. He could have saved Martha’s life if he had.
Accused of Mur*der
Juan was on his way to work at his dad’s mechanic shop early one August morning in 2003 with his girlfriend Alma Oseguera and their daughter. As soon as he pulled into the parking lot, a van full of LAPD officers jumped out and surrounded Juan, drawing their guns on him.
The 20-person SEIS (Special Investigation Section), also known as the “D*eath Squad,” was involved. They were a controversial LAPD team with a bad reputation for “shooting first, asking questions later.” There were up to 45 suspects in the D*eath Squad who were never taken to jail. They said Catalan had something to do with k*illing Martha Puebla on May 12, 2003.
Juan was arrested right away, taken to jail, and put in a cell. He kept saying he had nothing to do with any kil*lings. When he was taken to an interrogation room, LAPD detective Martin Pinner lied that a witness had named him as the kil*ler of Martha Puebla and showed him a sketch of the person who ki*lled her.
Juan said he didn’t know anything and asked the police for a polygraph test, but they said no.
When an adult man screams for help, you really understand what fear is.
— Juan Catalan, from the Netflix documentary “Long Shot”
Juan Goes to Supermax
As Juan Catalan waited for his court date, he was moved to a “supermax” (super-maximum security prison), which Wikipedia defines as:
“.. the most secure level of custody .. to provide long-term, segregated housing for inmates classified as the highest security risks in the prison system ..”
Juan learned that other prisoners would try to hurt him if they found out he was accused of kil*ling a girl who was too young to be there. People in jail wouldn’t care that he didn’t do it; they wouldn’t even try to tell the difference.
Juan Catalan was scared and by himself.
I just had a gut feeling. There’s just no way this kid could have committed a mur*der. It just seemed completely out of his character.
— Attorney Todd Melnik, from the Netflix documentary
Attorney Todd Melnik Takes the Case
Juan thought back to the time when his cousin worked for the lawyer Todd Melnik. Juan was told by Melnick, “I’m going to get you out of here.” The lawyer started looking into the case right away.
Asa, Juan’s girlfriend, told him that the night Martha was k*illed, he was at a Dodgers game. Melnik called the Dodgers’ legal department and was given permission to look at game film. He looked through videos of the game Juan had been to for hours but couldn’t find anything.
Juan was lucky because he remembered seeing “Super Dave Osborne” at the game. “Super Dave Osborne” was played by actor Bob Einstein on Larry David’s The Office. The production office of David got in touch with Melnik, and Larry David let Melnik watch the video.
The folks who work on Curb Your Enthusiasm found that some scenes from the fourth season episode “The Carpool Lane” were filmed at Dodger Stadium. Melaniek watched hours and hours of video in the viewing room with Larry David and the show staff.
The lawyer was losing hope when all of a sudden he jumped up and yelled, “That’s him!” Melnik saw Juan Catalan with his daughter, and it turned out that Juan could be seen at the stadium in three different recordings.
He jumped right out of his chair. He was there. To be honest, it was pretty exciting.
“That moment Melnik saw Juan Catalan on film at the Dodger game,” said Larry David.
Prosecutor Beth Silverman
Melnik said that the prosecutor in charge of the case, Beth Silverman, “had never lost a mu*rder case—ever—before in her career.” “Her nickname is ‘sniper,’ because she likes to pick off people with the d*eath penalty.”
Silverman thought Juan was responsible because he had been in court a few months before Martha Puebla testified at the preliminary hearing for his brother Mario’s mu*rder case, he looked a lot like the suspect in a sketch artist’s drawing of an eyewitness account, and she didn’t think Juan had a good alibi, even with the Dodger game video.
Silverman pointed out that the video’s time code put Juan at Dodger Stadium between 8:55 and 9:15 p.m. Since the 911 call about Martha Puebla’s mu*rder came in at 10:43 p.m., the prosecution could say that Juan had plenty of time to leave the stadium and get back to the neighborhood where Martha was k*illed.
Cellphone Pings Solidify the Case
After seeing the slow-motion chase of O.J. Simpson, Melnik remembered that police were able to track Simpson by finding out which cell towers the football star’s phone was “pinging.”
Melnik found out that Juan was still at Dodger Stadium at 10:12 p.m. by calling Juan’s cell phone provider and finding the cell tower near the stadium that his phone was pinging. He also looked into the calls Juan had with Alma that night.
Juan Catalan’s Day in Court
Once again, after months in jail, Juan’s court date with Judge Leslie Dunn was set. Juan says Judge Dunn talked for a long time, but he couldn’t make out what she was saying. That’s when Catalan remembers Melnik leaned over and telling him, “It’s over.”
The judge threw out the case after hearing the evidence, and Juan was freed.
Long Shot: Netflix Documentary
Long Shot is a documentary that Netflix made about Juan Catalan’s life in 2017. The praised movie, which was directed by Jacob LaMendola, won a number of awards and was nominated for an Emmy for Outstanding Short Documentary.
Where Are They Now?
The City of Los Angeles and the LAPD paid Juan Catalan $320,000 as a settlement. He has tried to get the detectives who set him up to forgive him. He said to 60 Minutes Australia:
“No one should walk around with hate in them. That’s poison in our bodies … it doesn’t hurt the person you hate, it hurts yourself, and it eats away at your soul.”
After that, Juan got his associate’s degree and plans to keep going to school to get a business degree. To support his family, he still works at his dad’s store.
Lawyer Todd Melnik is still working as a lawyer in and around Los Angeles. The place where he works is in Woodland Hills, California. Melanie made a GoFundMe page to help the Catalan family.
Beth Silverman, who used to be a prosecutor, is now a deputy district attorney for Los Angeles County. She won the Centurion Award for Excellence in Cold Case Investigations in 2021.
Mental Floss says that Larry David makes fun of his role in the Juan Catalan case by saying, “I tell people that I’ve done one good thing in my life, albeit accidentally.” In 2021, the eleventh season of Curb Your Enthusiasm came to an end.
The Netflix documentary from 2017 said:
“Detective Martin Pinner was removed from working homicide cases and his partner, Detective Juan Rodriguez, was transferred to an auto fraud detail.”
Four men in a gang were found to have ki*lled Martha Puebla during an FBI investigation. All four will spend the rest of their lives in federal prison, never being able to get out.