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How 'Curb Your Enthusiasm' kept an innocent man out of prison

In the new Netflix documentary, "Long Shot," a man accused of a murder he didn't commit is exonerated thanks to the unlikeliest of sources: the HBO show, "Curb Your Enthusiasm."

In 2003, Juan Catalán was accused of the murder of 16-year-old Martha Puebla. His alibi was that he was at a Los Angeles Dodgers game on the night of the murder, but he couldn’t prove it. Then, he remembered a TV crew had been filming at the Dodgers Stadium that night. 

Turns out it was HBO’s “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” shooting a scene with star Larry David. Footage from the show would later help to exonerate Catalán, surprising everyone, including David.

We spoke with "Long Shot" director Jacob LaMendola about where he came across this story and how he landed an interview with Larry David. 

On where he first heard Catalán's story:

I saw this on the trivia section for Curb on the IMDb page. I was just bored and reading about "Curb" and this was — and still is — the first fact there, that an episode was involved in this murder case. And just like anybody else I was curious. I tried to find Juan and couldn't find him anywhere on the Internet, but I could find [his] lawyer, Todd Melnick. I called him and decided I was going to fly to California [from] New York and meet him and Juan. At that point, I had no idea if it was going to be a movie or anything. But in meeting them, it was the way that they spoke. That's when I realized it should be a film. 

On how Juan Catalán got entangled in a murder case from 2003:

A 16-year-old girl, Martha Puebla, was murdered. She lived very close to Juan. Juan's brother, Mario, is unfortunately involved in some of the gangs that were very prominent in Los Angeles at the time. It was sort of just mistaken identity. There was one eyewitness when she was killed on her front lawn. He ran away the second that she was killed. His eyewitness testimony was the only thing they had. He drew up a sketch of what he remembered the shooter looked like, and Juan's ID was in the system because of his brother. And it seemed to just match ... it was a very convenient excuse. It was wrong place, wrong time. 

On what motive authorities gave for why Catalán would want to kill Puebla:

Martha was an eyewitness to another murder. When she was testifying, Juan's brother was also testifying [in] another case. So Juan was in the audience watching Martha testify, but he was there for his brother's support. They thought Juan was killing Martha to protect his brother. The [police] had their minds set on Juan. I think that's what the movie shows you — all of these things they had to do to prove that it wasn't him.

On what led attorney Todd Melnick to Larry David and "Curb your Enthusiasm":

All Juan remembered [from] the game was [seeing the actor who played] Super Dave Osborne, which is Bob Einstein, the actor who plays Funkhauser on "Curb." Juan had no idea who Larry David was. He didn't know what "Curb Your Enthusiasm" was. But he did know Super Dave Osborne, and that's what triggered Todd. Todd was able find out that they were shooting "Curb." From there he went to the studio to watch all this footage.

What did the footage show?

It's in the "Curb" outtake footage, it's not even in the actual episode. But not only do you see Juan in the footage, but he's right front and center of the frame, walking down to his seat holding his daughter's hand while Larry David is coming up the aisle. They almost bump into each other. And, clearly, Juan ruins the take. Larry David puts his arms up and it's this amazing moment. They literally almost touched. That moment to me was the reason to make the film. It's just a small moment that became so big. 

On finally landing an interview with Larry David:

It took forever, we hounded him. We knew that he had to be a part of the film. It took over a year, going through his secretary over and over again. I remember I finally got five minutes to try to convince him. His secretary called and said, "We have Larry David. Do you want to talk to him?" He picks up the phone and the very first thing he says is, "There's no way I would ever be a part of this." And my heart, I swear — this was a year-and-a half-in, we had already filmed interviews, I had all this archival [footage], I visited Juan's brother in prison — I was crushed. I think I went into shock and I just said, "OK, well, let me just tell you what I've been through and talk to you about the experience." I don't remember what I said, I just started talking. I must have been rambling because he was like, "Hey, so all you need is an interview from me?" I was like, Yeah. And he [said], "OK, I'll do it." And that was it.

This is a partial transcript. Click the play button above to hear the entire interview.