Jeffrey Toobin has a great local item this week in The New Yorker's "Talk of the Town" department. After police arrested Juan Catalan for the murder last May 12 of a witness in a Los Angeles gang case, he swore he had an alibi. Catalan said he had been at Dodger Stadium with his daughter, watching Eric Gagne blow a lead and the Dodgers lose 11-4 to the Braves. He produced ticket stubs, but the police had a witness placing him at the murder scene. Defense lawyer Todd Melnik even subpoenaed the Fox TV broadcast and the tape of every fan shown during the game on the Dodger Vision video screen, but he couldn't prove his client was there. Then Melnik (and Catalan) got lucky.
Melnik...learned that on the evening of May 12th the HBO comedy series “Curb Your Enthusiasm” had been shooting scenes in the ballpark. In that episode, which aired earlier this year, Larry David, the star of the show, attends a Dodgers game with a prostitute. (David doesn’t hire her for sex but, rather, to sit with him in his car so that he can travel in the car-pool lane on his way to the game.) Melnik asked if he could examine the HBO footage, too.
"It sounded very cool because my life is so lacking in anything interesting," David said last week. "It did seem like kind of a lame story, but I told the lawyer, ‘Go ahead, go crazy. Look at anything you want.’ And we hooked him up with everything from the stadium, all the footage we shot that night." On the day that Melnik came in to see the tapes, David at first left him to watch on his own, but later he stuck his head in the editing room, where the lawyer was examining the footage.
“I’m there for maybe five minutes, and the lawyer screams out, ‘There he is!’” David recalled. “We couldn’t believe it. We rewound the tape, and just as I’m walking up the aisle in one shot, this guy is sitting right there. And then there was another shot where he was standing up.” Melnik said, “Jesus Christ, if I didn’t jump three feet in the air! It was totally a eureka moment.”
The tape's time codes and cell phone records cinched it. A judge dismissed the charges after Catalan spent 5½ months in jail. AP moved a story today. The L.A. Times has yet to pick up on the tale (or to have ever reported on Catalan, based on a search of LATimes.com). Hat tip to Jon at Dodger Thoughts, who comments on the story.
** Further hat tips!: The Daily News covered Catalan's release in January, mentioning an HBO video but not David or "Curb Your Enthusiasm." Harvey Levin had it on "Celebrity Justice" back in April, with footage of Catalan, and talked about it on MSNBC's "Abrams Report." A kind reader sent along the Lexis-Nexis transcript. An excerpt follows.
*** Drawing the short straw: J. Michael Kennedy gets the duty to follow up in Thursday's L.A. Times. Catalan is off to do morning talk shows in New York, though the story sort of implies it all began with the New Yorker item.
That excerpt from MSNBC in April:
HARVEY LEVIN: Honest to God, Dan, it's one of the most amazing stories that I've seen since we launched the show. I mean it is so beyond what you would believe in a movie, and it happened.
ABRAMS: And so he -- at what point does he realize, wait a second, I remember Larry David being there. Does he say this to his lawyer and his lawyer says well maybe they have outtakes?
LEVIN: It was his girlfriend. He didn't really remember. But when the lawyer finally got the date from the police, his girlfriend is the one who remembered you were at Dodgers Stadium with your daughter. He told his lawyer that and his lawyer contacted Larry David. And you know he -- Juan had remembered that, yes, they were shooting this thing. He didn't even know who Larry David was. He certainly does now.
ABRAMS: Wow and this tape was shown in court. I mean did they actually have to go to court to get him freed?
LEVIN: A judge actually dismissed it. You know Dan, I've got to tell you, this guy spent five and a half months in jail. And the reason that this all went down is because there was one eyewitness at the murder scene who looked at Juan's picture in a lineup and said that's the guy. But Juan didn't really match the height, the weight or the skin color of the man that everybody else had identified there. So it was rather thin to begin with.