Life is full of what-ifs. What if I hadn’t been there that day? What if I didn’t meet this person? What if I didn’t take that phone call?
We could each break our lives down into a never-ending list of these what-ifs. One California man is still asking himself, “what if?” after a fated event changed the course of his life forever. What’s even more interesting is the star who aided him in proving he was innocent…
Juan was born in a home in the suburbs north of Los Angeles, California, in 1978. He worked at a repair shop alongside his family, including his dad and his brother Mario. Juan always looked up to Mario, that was, until, he started hanging out with the wrong crowd.
Getting Into Trouble
Mario started coming home with stolen stereos and car parts and Juan wound up helping him. He would drive the getaway car while his brother and other guys broke into cars. Juan wound up getting arrested and after that, he promised himself it would be the last time he would go to jail…
August 12, 2003
Juan was asleep alongside longtime girlfriend Alma Oseguera one night when he had a terrible dream. He thought it was due to a guilty conscious of his past, but the dream felt too real. He dreamt of UFOs and aliens and someone taking him away. Then, the next morning he had to get up to leave for work.
What Was Happening?
Juan drove to work at about 5:30 am and pulled into his shop parking lot. There he was greeted by his father, who was always the first one at work. But, within moments, Juan was surrounded by men. He got out of the car and a man held something up to his face and Juan thought his life was going to end…
Additional men grabbed Juan and threw him face down on the floor onto the asphalt. The officers cuffed him and brought him to the Men’s Central Jail in Los Angeles. Juan had no idea what he was being arrested for but he cooperated with police.
Charged With Murder?
Officers told Juan that he was being charged with the May 12, 2003, murder of 16-year-old Martha Puebla. Juan only knew Martha because she testified against his brother in a separate case, where Mario was a co-defendant. That is how prosecutors connected Juan to Martha…
People Vs. Juan Ignacio Catalan
Prosecutors continued to tell Juan, “You killed someone,” even though he knew he didn’t. Then, he remembered that his cousin was a filing clerk for a top lawyer. The lawyer was so good that he was a commentator on the OJ Simpson case. Juan knew he had to get this attorney to represent him.
The Best Of The Best
Todd Melnik agreed to represent Juan and he finally believed he had a chance of getting the charges against him dropped. But, first they had to prove that Juan was innocent. So Todd asked Juan where he was on May 12, the day Martha was killed…
Juan was at a Dodger game that day with his 6-year-old daughter, his cousin Miguel and his friend Rubin. But, now he had to prove this to the court. According to reports, Martha was killed at around 10 pm that night, so all Todd had to do was prove that Juan was at the game. But, it wasn’t going to be so easy.
The prosecutor that was assigned to the case had never lost a murder case ever in her career. She even received the nickname, Sniper, because she liked to pick off people with the death penalty. Juan was scared but then Todd asked Alma to find the Dodger tickets from May 12 but not to touch them…
Alma found the tickets and Todd called Sam Fernandez, Senior Vice President for General Counsel of the Dodgers. Todd went to the Dodger stadium and took photos of Juan’s seat and where it was in relation to the dugout. Todd even tracked down other fans sitting near Juan that day to see if someone could testify that he was there.
Finding A Needle In A Haystack
Unfortunately, no one got a close enough look at Juan to be able to testify for him. So Todd looked through the Dodger video from that day and tried to find Juan among 40,000 people. Todd wound up finding him but the resolution was too low to prove it. Then, Juan remembered that they had been filming something that day at the stadium…
All Juan recalled was security personnel blocking the aisle and a man walking up and down the stairs for the different takes. Todd found out they were filming Curb Your Enthusiasm that day and the episode was called, “Carpool Lane.” They shot in two sections that day and one section was Juan’s.
Never Released Footage
After obtaining unreleased footage from the show, Todd spotted Juan walking with his daughter holding her hand! He thought the case was a done deal, but the problem was the filming took place at 9 and the murder happened at 10. In order to prove Juan was still at the game, Todd tracked down the closest cell tower to Juan at the time, which was right across the street from the Dodger Stadium. But now, it was ultimately up to the judge to decide…
Judge Leslie Dunn
Knowing that Juan was facing the death penalty if convicted, Judge Dunn knew how important it was to listen carefully to these numbers and times. In the preliminary hearing, Judge Dunn was faced with the decision to send Juan onto a jury trial, or make the decision herself to dismiss it. She always knew how time-sensitive cases were, but this one especially was.
Is This The Voice Of A Guilty Man?
Judge Dunn took the interrogation audio tapes home with her so she could listen to it as many times as she wanted to, which she did. Judge Dunn even had her children listen to the tapes asking them as she was asking herself, “Is this the voice of a guilty man?”
Consuming Her Mind
Juan’s case ran over and over in Judge Dunn’s mind until she was forced to make a decision which would impact the rest of his life. As Judge Dunn began speaking, Todd sensed his client was about to be a free man and low and behold, he was right. Todd whispered to Juan, “It’s over,” and just like that, his case was dismissed.
The men handling Juan’s case wound up being accused of forcing a confession out of Juan, whether or not they thought he did it. Detective Martin Pinner was removed from working homicide cases and his partner, Detective Juan Rodriguez, was transferred into an auto fraud detail. But, who actually killed Martha Puebla?
The Real Killers
It was discovered that the 16-year-old had witnessed the wrongdoings of a gang and they killed her because she was cooperating with police. The FBI discovered that four other men were also responsible for Martha Puebla’s murder. All of them took deals in federal court for life in prison without parole.
What Happened To Juan Catalan?
As for Juan Catalan, after half a year in jail, he walked away a free man. Juan received a $320,000 settlement in a lawsuit against the city of Los Angeles and its police force. He later went on to do a Netflix documentary of his story called, “Long Shot,” where Larry David made an appearance.