The United States justice system is not perfect. According to Innocence Project, approximately 20,000 people — roughly 1% of the prison population — are falsely convicted of crimes. For Juan Catalan, the faults of the criminal justice apparatus briefly showed their terrifying destructive potential when he was arrested for the murder of 16-year-old Martha Puebla.
Catalan was eventually cleared by an unusual method, ABC News reported. But before he was proven innocent, he had to face the possibility that his life would be reduced to another tragic statistic as he lived his life behind bars for a crime he did not commit.
Despite being at a Los Angeles Dodgers baseball game at the time Puebla was killed in a drive-by shooting, Catalan was arrested for the crime. The shooting was retaliation for Puebla’s testimony in a gang murder case in which Catalan’s brother was a co-defendant. Yet even after producing ticket stubs of the baseball game he attended, law enforcement had chosen their man in Catalan, and he was incarcerated to await his trial for capital murder.
Catalan was saved by an unexpected means
Catalan was ultimately exonerated by outtakes from “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” an HBO comedy show that captured him at the Dodgers game, which was featured in Season 4’s episode “The Car Pool Lane.”
Although Catalan’s attorney, Todd Melnik, eviscerated police for failing to do their job properly, Catalan has spent his post-jail time finding forgiveness for the officers who put him in jail, a process he says his mother encouraged. “You know, hate is, no one should walk around with hate in them. That’s poison in our bodies that, you know, it doesn’t hurt the person you hate, it hurts yourself, and it eats away at your soul,” he said during an interview on “60 Minutes Australia” (posted on YouTube).
In 2007, Catalan received a $320,000 settlement from a lawsuit against the City of Los Angeles and its police force, and was the subject of a short Netflix documentary, “Long Shot,” that examines his ordeal. With his freedom back, Catalan has also not forgotten the show that helped him secure it. According to ABC News, Catalan is now a “devoted fan” of the acclaimed comedy series.
The New York Post reported in 2017 that Catalan had earned an associate’s degree in general education and hoped to pursue a bachelor’s degree in business. Catalan and Melnik are “best friends” now. Yet despite the settlement, a Gofundme page organized by Melnik last March in support of Catalan says that Juan “still struggles today” financially, working in his father’s machine shop to support his three children.
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