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A suspect wanted for murdering a transgender woman in her apartment in East Hollywood last August was arrested recently in Mexico and has been returned to the United States to face charges.
Police had been searching for nearly a year for Jesus Catalan, 25, whom they described as a transient. The Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office had issued an arrest warrant charging Catalan with murder, but he eluded authorities until he was arrested by police in Tijuana, Mexico on July 3 after being involved in a dispute with the manager of an apartment building where he was staying.
“We had no idea where he was,” said Det. Chris Linscomb, with the LAPD’s Rampart Division. “We believed he fled to Mexico soon after the murder, and had basically been on the run.”
Linscomb said Tijuana police arrested Catalan for vandalism, and although he gave them a fake name, they suspected he was a U.S. citizen and turned him over to officials with the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Agency. Catalan’s fingerprints revealed his true identity, and officials determined that there was a murder warrant for his arrest. He was later turned over to Los Angeles Police Department officials.
“The arrest in Tijuana was the break in the case,” Linscomb said. “[Finding him] was a priority, like any other murder case, but because of the violence involved, it made it even more of a priority.”
Catalan is charged with murdering Paulina Ibarra, 24, at her apartment in the 900 block of Mariposa Avenue on August 28. Other residents in the complex reportedly heard a fight occurring in the apartment and a woman screaming, and called police. Officers arrived to find Ibarra lying on the floor, suffering from multiple stab wounds. She was pronounced dead at the scene.
Police had few leads to go on at first, but then members of the transgender community came forward with information about Catalan. The suspect was known to frequently associate with members of the transgender community in Hollywood and West Hollywood. Linscomb said the suspect did not have a permanent address, and stayed with friends or on the streets of the Hollywood area.
Investigators declined to comment on evidence linking Catalan to the murder because of the pending court proceedings, and no weapon was found, Linscomb said. He added that a motive for the murder has not been established.
“We are uncertain about how they met, but he was known to many people in that (transgender) community, and they were helpful in finding him,” Linscomb added. “We have been told through unidentified sources that he had altercations with members of that community in the past. We haven’t been able to substantiate any direct motive. We know there was a dispute between the victim and the suspect, but we may never know for sure why he committed the murder.”
Approximately one month after the murder, several members of the transgender community gathered with police outside Ibarra’s apartment to show their support. Members of the victim’s family also attended, including her brother, Jorge Ibarra, who described Ibarra as a friendly person with a kind heart.
“He was a great kid,” Ibarra said. “I just want justice.”
Jake Finney, the vice chair of West Hollywood’s Transgender Advisory Board and manager of the L.A. Gay and Lesbian Center’s Anti-Violence project, said Catalan’s arrest was a relief to many people in the transgender community.
“I think this has been a highly visible case within the transgender community, and a lot of people were deeply impacted by this murder,” Finney said. “They were on alert for the last year wondering if the suspect was still in the area. This capture has brought a lot of closure on that issue.”
Catalan was arraigned on July 7 and pleaded not guilty. He is currently in custody pending a preliminary hearing to be scheduled at a later date.
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