Six gunshots jolted Carolina Lacerda out of her home office, forcing her to run to her front door to look through the keyhole. But nothing could save beautiful Ana Abulaban, only 28-years-old or her friend, 29-year-old Rayburn Cardenas Barron. They were both dead. What had caused such madness? And who could have done this horrible act?
Ana and Ali Abulaban
Ana and Ali Abulaban were a stunning couple. In one photograph Ana is seen in a form fitting dress looking so staggeringly gorgeous that she could have graced the cover of any high fashion magazine. Ali stands next to her, appearing supremely confident, as his hand rests on Ana’s waist. Ali was soaring high as a TikTok star having built up a following of nearly one million for his comedy skits and impersonations, particularly of the character Tony Montana from the famous 1983 film Scarface. From all accounts, he loved the limelight. Young, beautiful, successful, the world was at their feet, or so it seemed.
Although Ana was once smiling for the camera, on the afternoon of October 21, 2021, Ana was violently murdered, shot in the head execution style. And the person accused of this unthinkable act is none other than her husband, Ali Abulaban. Did Ali really murder Ana, extinguishing her bright life in seconds and depriving their 5-year-old daughter of her mother forever?
According to the prosecution, he did, shooting Ana after believing she was cheating on him. Yet the couple had already separated with Ana deciding she was leaving the marriage for good, seeking finally to be free from domestic violence and Ali’s cheating ways. But Ali did not want to let her go.
A Day of Murder and Charges Against Ali
After making a secret key to Ana’s home, Ali entered while she was away and installed a listening device on their daughter’s iPad. When Ali heard Ana giggling with another man, unable to bear it, it is alleged he drove to the East Village high-rise known as Spire San Diego, and shot Ana and Rayburn to death.
Ali is charged with two counts of first-degree murder, a gun use allegation, and the special-circumstance allegation of committing multiple murders, meaning he could face the death penalty if the prosecution pursues capital punishment. Although Ali reportedly confessed to his mother and a detective, Ali has pled not guilty.
On January 5, 2022, Ali’s preliminary hearing began in the San Diego courtroom of Judge Aaron Katz, but after only one day of testimony, the matter was continued to January 24, 2022. Although a preliminary hearing is not a full trial, but meant merely to determine if there is enough evidence to order the accused to stand trial, chilling details were revealed of the couple’s troubled marriage, Ali’s deadly obsession, and the horrific events of that final day. The prosecution was headed by San Diego Deputy District Attorney Taren Brast and the defense by San Diego Public Defender Jodi Green. But was anybody ready for the explosive hearing which unfolded?
Ali’s 911 Call and Arrest
San Diego Police Detective and Sergeant Christopher Leahy was the first witness called to the stand and he testified Ali called 911 around 3:10 on the day of the shooting. He told the dispatcher he arrived at the 35th floor apartment and found the couple dead in the living room. Although asked to remain at the scene, Ali terminated the call, and went instead to pick up his 5-year-old daughter from school.
He was arrested soon thereafter as he drove with his young daughter on Route 15 near the 805 freeway.
A Marital Separation and Ali Makes the Secret Key
Sergeant Leahy testified Ana and Ali met in 2014 in Okinawa, Japan while Ali was in the military. After an incident in which Ali had a physical fight with Ana and others in a bar, Ali was “other than honorably discharged from the Air Force,” said Leahy. The couple lived in Virginia but eventually moved to San Diego in February of 2021, as Ana wanted to be closer to her friends. Trouble in the marriage soon abounded.
Nine calls to police were made to the couple’s apartment between July of 2021 and the day of the killings. A recent domestic violence incident had caused Ana to decide to leave the marriage for good. Five weeks before her murder, Ana and her daughter moved out of the apartment. Initially they stayed with Ali’s parents in Virginia, but only two weeks before the murders they flew back to San Diego.
On October 18, 2021, three days before the murders, Ali agreed to move out of the apartment so his wife and daughter could return there. He moved to a Holiday Inn Express in Mission Bay.
But Ali secretly made a copy of the apartment key.
Ali Installs a Secret Listening Device
Leahy testified a neighbors’ Nest Cam and elevator cameras captured events of October 21, 2021. On that morning, the cameras showed Ana and her daughter leaving for school at 8:45 a.m.
Ali told detectives after his wife and daughter left, he used the secret key to gain entrance to the apartment. He vandalized the unit and also installed an app on his daughter’s iPad to allow him to listen in on conversations inside the apartment.
A Timeline of Murder – Camera Footage of October 21, 2021
At 9:15 a.m. Ali arrived at Ana’s apartment. Sergeant Leahy testified Ali was seen on camera on his cell phone and could be heard saying, “Where are you?” Followed by “I know you’re lying” and “I know you’re cheating on me.” Although the detectives could not hear who was on the phone, it was confirmed Ana received a call from Ali telling her he had vandalized the apartment.
At 9:45 a.m. Ali left the apartment.
At 11:00 a.m. Ana Facetimed with her friend Julia and described the destruction. Julia later told detectives Ana was going to get a temporary restraining order that day.
At 1:47 p.m. Ana returned to the apartment with her friend Rayburn Barron. Ali was at his hotel when he heard Ana giggling with a man. He heard the male’s voice, but did not know who it was. Ali immediately left for the apartment, a drive of 20-40 minutes, listening on his cell phone the entire time.
At 2:50 p.m. Ali was inside the apartment’s parking garage where he tightened his belt as if he was readjusting for a firearm and ran back and forth on the parking ramp.
At 2:55 p.m. Ali was in the elevator.
At 2:58 p.m. Ali arrived on the 35th floor. The Nest camera showed him sprinting to the apartment. Sergeant Leahy said Ali told police when he entered the apartment, he saw his wife and Rayburn sitting on the couch, and Rayburn had his arm around her.
At 2:58.43 p.m. the first gunshot was heard. It was only 12 seconds after Ali exited the elevator.
At 2:58.48 p.m. a female was heard screaming after four gunshots. Two seconds later the sixth and final gunshot was heard.
At 2:69.16 p.m. Ali left the apartment. He then paced back and forth several times between the elevator and apartment. He finally walked back to the apartment and opened the door, yelling out, “Ana, Ana, Ana, Ana!”
At 3:00.41 p.m. Ali was frantic and pacing.
At 3:02.06 p.m. Ali called his mother. He purportedly told her, “I just shot Ana. I shot her in the head and killed her.”
At 3:03.10 p.m. Ali continued pacing and his neighbor, Daniel, arrived in the elevator. Ali entered the elevator and rode with Daniel to an upper floor. Daniel said Ali appeared upset and in a hurry. Daniel asked, “Is everything okay?” Ali responded, “No, everything’s gone to shit.” As Daniel tried to ask more questions, Ali said, “Stop F—ing asking me questions!”
At 3:11 p.m. Ali called 911.
Sergeant Leahy said when Ali was arrested, he stated he did not know who the male was on the listening device. However, when he entered the apartment, it dawned on him that Rayburn was the guy who had hit on Ana the first time they met. Leahy said Rayburn had made an inappropriate comment about “wanting to f–k his wife.”
Leahy also testified a divorce was pending. Ana had discovered Ali cheating with another girl in their apartment complex. He had other affairs, although Leahy did not know how many.
In discussing Ali’s demeanor, he said when Ali talked to his mother it was “very matter of fact” and when Ali was interviewed “there were no tears.”
Ali’s Shocking Courtroom Outbursts
Ali’s First Outburst
Sergeant Leahy was asked about the nature of Ana and Rayburn’s relationship. He said according to review of messages on their social media accounts it appeared their relationship had turned more romantic. Ana’s Instagram account showed she invited Rayburn to the hotel she was staying at. At this point, Ali shouted out, “Bitch!”
Judge Katz admonished Ali for his outburst, and Ali, upset about this revelation, said “This is news to me.” Judge Katz told him to remain quiet and stated the court could take a break if needed for him to talk with his attorney.
Later, when Sergeant Leahy said Rayburn was talking about plans to have sexual relations with Ana or already had, Ali, greatly agitated tried to get up from his seat, but was prevented when the bailiff moved in closer.
Leahy said Ana was found on the couch with her legs tucked under her thighs and coiled around Rayburn furthering Leahy’s belief the two were romantically involved. A bag of cocaine was also found in her right hand.
Ali’s Second Outburst and Rabid Tirade
When attorney Green cross-examined Sergeant Leahy about Ali’s demeanor, she said, “He had just experienced a very traumatic event is that fair to say?” Leahy responded with it was one he created. This set Ali off and he yelled out, “Elaborate on, Elaborate on.” Getting more worked up, he said, “Don’t inject your own opinion! Don’t inject your own f—ing opinion!”
Then completely losing all control, lunging forward in fierce anger, he shouted out rabidly, “Do you think I wanted this?! Do you think I f—ing wanted this?!” By this time, both bailiffs had their hands on Ali as he descended into tears shouting, “My life is destroyed!” The outburst was so loud and aggressive, my heart started beating fast and I felt my breath catch.
During this shocking time, Judge Katz kept saying, “Mr. Abulaban. Mr. Abulaban, I need you to stop.” When Ali was at last silent, though still crying, Judge Katz told the bailiffs to remove him. They first placed him with his face and body up against the wall, before finally taking him to the holding room.
A stunned courtroom sat in absolute silence. Judge Katz called a 10-minute recess and told attorney Green she needed to talk to her client, stating there could be no further outbursts or new accommodations would have to be made. Ali would then have to watch the proceedings virtually. After the break, Ali was able to control himself, at least for a time.
Neighbors Testify to a Domestic Violence Incident
Daniel and his wife, Carolina, lived directly across from the Abulaban’s apartment and they testified to a day when Ana knocked on their door for help. Although Daniel could not recall the exact date, he knew it was before September 17th as the 17th was his birthday, and he knew the event happened before that date.
Ana knocked on their door and when Daniel opened it, he found Ana there naked from the waist up and hysterical. She was crying, scared, and nervous. She said Ali had hit her and stolen her cell phone. She asked to use their phone so she could call 911. Carolina said she had heard Ana screaming, things being thrown, and smacks as the fighting occurred in the hallway. She saw that Ana and the young daughter were both crying.
Daniel twice offered to give Ana his shirt, but Daniel testified Ana was so hysterical, his offer did not seem to register, nor did she seem to even notice she was unclothed. On cross-examination, Daniel and Carolina both denied Ana ever saying when offered a shirt, “I’m already wearing a shirt.” Daniel gave Ana his cell phone.
Ana took the phone back to the apartment, but she called her family instead of 911. Neither Daniel nor Carolina called the police, leaving it up to Ana to decide. The next day, Ali came over to apologize for having to have met that way. During the conversation, Ali said he was suspicious Ana was with other men and asked Daniel to let him know if he saw other men. Both Carolina and Daniel testified security and the police came to the apartment several times.
Daniel addressed the time of his birthday when he had friends over and Ali asked if he could come over too. Daniel agreed. Ali told him he had concerns Ana was cheating on him and said she wanted to leave him. Ali wanted to work on the marriage, but Ana “just wants to party.”
When Daniel further testified Ali said his wife wanted to leave him, but he wanted to prevent it, attorney Green pounced, asking Daniel if he told the police this when they interviewed him after the murders. From the way Green asked the question, it appeared he did not. Daniel answered, “Maybe,” but he could not recall everything he told the police. Attorney Green seemed to let it go, noting the interview was recorded anyway.
Prosecutor Brast was not going to let it go so easily, and made sure to confirm Ali knew at the time of Daniel’s birthday party (September 17th) his marriage was ending. She concluded her examination with Ana wanted to leave, but Ali didn’t want it.
Interview of Ana and Ali’s Young Daughter
Ali had his young daughter with him when he was arrested on the freeway. She was taken from the car to a forensic interview with a social worker. On the witness stand, a homicide detective described the interview, saying she told the social worker her dad said the reason the police cars were there was because, “Daddy hurt mommy, and that’s why he’s going to jail.”
When asked why daddy hurts mommy, she answered, “Because he’s crazy.” She said she had seen her dad hit her mom, and that “Only dad hurts mom.” He hurts her every time he sees her, with his hands.
On cross-examination, attorney Green questioned who called Ali crazy, and showed it was Ana who called him crazy. She also showed the daughter described name calling between both parents and said one time her mom was about to hit her dad with a wine bottle raised above his head.
In response, the prosecutor said they don’t know if Ana was defending herself when she held the wine bottle. But they do know Ali was smiling and laughing when he picked up his daughter from school.
Neighbors Describe the Events of October 21, 2021
On October 21, 2021, Carolina was working in her office in her apartment when she heard gunshots. She heard four shots, then a pause of about three seconds, then two more shots. She did not hear any screaming. She ran to look through the keyhole and she saw Ali shouting, “Ana, Ana, Ana, Ana!” She also saw him check under the doormat and take something. He went inside the apartment and was inside for 20 seconds or so.
Daniel was coming home from a work meeting and around 3:00 he was in the elevator. When the door opened on the 35th floor Ali was standing there. Ali got on the elevator and Daniel stayed inside to talk to him as the elevator continued going up. Ali seemed upset and in a hurry. Daniel asked, “Is everything okay?” Ali responded, “No, everything’s gone to shit.” As Daniel tried to ask further questions, Ali said, “Stop f—ing asking me questions!”
When Daniel arrived at his apartment, Carolina was at the door, and she told him about the gunshots and that she was worried about Ana. She wanted to call the police, but Daniel decided to first go down to the lobby to see if Ali was there. But once he arrived in the lobby, the police were already there, and they asked him about the gunshots. He rode in the elevator with them and then they placed him and Caroline in the stairwell as they breached the Abulaban’s apartment.
The Crime Scene Photos and More Courtroom Outbursts
Homicide Detective Ricardo Escalante took the witness stand and described what he saw when he entered the apartment on October 21, 2021. Ana and Rayburn were both sitting on the couch. Rayburn’s head was tilted back, and he had trauma to his face. Ana’s head was on Rayburn’s lap, and she had trauma to her head. As the prosecutor began showing the graphic photographs of Ana and Rayburn to Escalante, Ali turned his head away. When a close-up of Ana was shown, Ali visible flinched and gasped before abruptly turning his body away, unable to view the destruction.
When the prosecutor began detailing the gunshot wounds and brought out more graphic photographs, Ali let out a loud cry and laid his upper body on the table sobbing. This was apparently too much for family members of Rayburn to bear, and one man yelled out, “F–k you!” At this breach of courtroom protocol, the bailiff ordered the man out of the courtroom, along with another woman. But instead of leaving, they began arguing with the bailiff, who got more upset by the minute that they were disobeying his order. The man questioned why Ali got to have outbursts, but he couldn’t. Back and forth it went, a virtual standoff. At last, the man angrily left, yelling out, “F–k you!” as he departed.
The woman remained, but the bailiff was determined to have her leave as well. She would not. She had done nothing wrong she kept stating. Again, back and forth it went, another standoff, until finally she too left. The bailiff called for backup, and soon another deputy appeared, standing guard at the back of the courtroom.
Testimony resumed, but the man who had been kicked out, suddenly returned. At his unexpected appearance, Judge Katz yelled from the bench, demanding he leave. The man responded, “Why? I’m calm now.” Judge Katz had had enough, and ordered him out, shouting, “Don’t come back in my courtroom!” The man got up and once again yelled out “F–k You!” as he left. Later, the yelling continued in the court hallway between the bailiff, the exiled woman, and others.
It was a mess to say the least. Emotions were running high in this most tragic of cases, and the bottom line was crystal clear: hearts were forever broken and feelings remained brutally raw.
The Autopsies and Search of Ali’s Car
Detective Escalante attended the autopsies on October 22, 2021, and prosecutor Brast walked him through the findings. Rayburn sustained three gunshots: to his right-side cheek, right side neck, and the back of his head. Ana had one gunshot to the top of her head, which penetrated her brain.
The cause of death for both was listed as gunshot wounds to the head. All of the gunshots were from a R.P. Luger 9-millimeter.
Inside Ali’s black Jeep Wrangler, which Ali was driving when he was arrested, the detectives found a Glock 419 and a gun safe with over 100 rounds of ammunition and three magazines.
Ali’s Cousin Describes Ali’s Personality
Ali’s cousin, Louis Marinari, picked up Ali’s vehicle after he was arrested. Detective Escalante said Marinari gave an interview stating Ali was controlling, obsessive, and jealous of Ana’s social life in San Diego. He saw markings on Ana, and she kept images of them. He said men in Ali’s family were violent by nature.
Marinari also described Ali as a chronic cheater. He said Ali believed it was okay for him to cheat but not Ana.
On cross-examination, attorney Green said Marinari had given multiple interviews to the news with differing accounts. She told Detective Escalante to watch them. She also raised Marinari did not mention Ana’s cheating. Neither did Marinari show the detective the marks on Ana’s face.
Prosecutor Brast then brought out Ali tried to hit on Marinari’s best friend Danielle. In response, attorney Green said Marinari refused to provide Danielle’s contact information to police.
Final Arguments and Judge Katz’ Decision
Attorney Green asked Judge Katz to dismiss the case, arguing it was a heat of passion case, not murder. If it was heat of passion, the special circumstance allegation could not attach.
Prosecutor Brast argued this was a murder case as express and implied malice were present. (In order for a murder conviction, there must be malice aforethought, which is the mental state of the intent to kill or harm. Malice is either express for first-degree or implied for second-degree).
Brast said it was express malice as Ali intended to kill his wife and Rayburn. He used a firearm, shot in the head, and shot multiple times. She also went through all the elements of implied malice. She then argued it was first-degree murder for both Ana and Rayburn as it was willful, deliberate, and premeditated.
She said there was evidence Ali was violent. There was the September 8, 2021, 911 call where Ana said he pushed her down. There were also nine calls to police from July 2021 until the time of the murders.
Brast continued: The parties had separated and Ana was moving on, but Ali continued to call and stalk her. When he realized it was not happening, on October 21st he planted the listening app. When he heard Ana giggling with another man, he drove to the apartment, went up in the elevator, and twelve seconds later, shot both of them in the head.
This was not a heat of passion killing continued Brast, which requires a provocation, such as a sudden quarrel. Carolina testified she did not hear any argument. Neither was it self-defense. Ana was moving on with her life and Ali would not let her.
Judge Katz denied the defense’s motion to dismiss. He said for both murders the evidence was significant and the evidence was substantial. He found the prosecution had met their burden and ordered Ali Abulaban to stand trial.
The next court hearing will be on February 7, 2022, where Ali will be arraigned for double murder.
To See Ali Abulaban’s Jailhouse Interview, Please Go to the Following Link:
About Aleida K. Wahn, Esq.
I am an attorney, award-winning true crime writer, and legal analyst of criminal cases. I cover criminal trials and write stories about compelling, gripping, and unforgettable cases that impact our world. I take you into the courtroom in high-profile murder trials, rape cases, crimes of passion, cases involving mental illness, deviant behavior, and more. I have a deep passion for true crime, criminal law, and all aspects of the criminal justice system. I have appeared as an expert on true crime shows and provided legal analysis on high-profile criminal trials on Court TV, the Law & Crime Trial Network, Fox 5 News, ABC 10 News, and KUSI News. I also create and host shows with the Del Mar Television Producers Group, addressing criminal justice and social issues in recent criminal trials.
I provided my insight and legal analysis on Court TV and the Law & Crime Trial Network of the high-profile trial of former NFL star Kellen Winslow Jr. It was a trial that captured the nation as the heralded ex-football star with fame, fortune, and a famous name stood accused of multiple rapes and other sex crimes involving five women. As the trial delved into shocking facts, complicated legal issues, and unexpected twists and turns, I was there for every minute. After the trial, I wrote a book on the case, going behind the headlines to share the extraordinary details of what happened inside the courtroom. Judging Winslow Jr.: From NFL Star to Serial Rapist? Inside the Shocking Rape Trial of Kellen Boswell Winslow II is now available on Amazon. https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07ZLM5HCG
I am passionate about telling true crime stories, as these penetrating stories have the power to move us all, while highlighting societal issues which need to be addressed. I have personally seen the human devastation which is present in each trial and believe there is a lesson to be learned in every single case. It is through awareness and examining critical issues society can effect change and even make new laws. To learn more, please visit: www.aleidalaw.com.