Convicted white supremacist gets 56 years to life for stabbing man to death at Laguna Niguel bar

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Four years after a deadly stabbing at a Laguna Niguel bar, a previously convicted white supremacist gang member was sentenced Friday to 56 years to life in prison for the killing, prosecutors said.

Craig Matthew Tanber, a 40-year-old Los Alamitos man who had been out of prison for just three months at the time of the September 2015 slaying, was convicted late last year of second-degree murder.

The parents of the victim in the Laguna Niguel stabbing, Shayan Mazroei, were disappointed in the verdict since prosecutors were seeking a first-degree murder conviction, according to the Orange County Register.

“I think it’s not fair,” his mother, Shahzad Mazroei, told the newspaper outside the courtroom. “I’m not happy with the result. We didn’t receive any justice.”

Craig Tanber, 40, appears in a photo released by the Orange County Sheriff's Department on Sept. 11, 2015.
Craig Tanber appears in a photo released by the Orange County Sheriff’s Department on Sept. 11, 2015.

The Dec. 18 verdict also left his family and others frustrated the case was never prosecuted as a hate crime — despite Tanber’s known reputation as a white supremacist, among other circumstances.

Mazroei, 22, was an Iranian-American attending Saddleback College in Mission Viejo. Witnesses testified during the trial that Tanber’s girlfriend had hurled racial slurs at Mazroei the night he was killed.

Within hours of the jury’s decision, the National Iranian American Council said “justice is incomplete.”

“Shayan’s death was a clear case of hate based on his Iranian heritage,” reads a statement from the organization. “Tanber was not charged with a hate crime, despite the evidence showing that he was motivated to kill Shayan because of his Iranian heritage.”

But prosecutors never sought a hate crime allegation in the case because there was no evidence it was one, according to Kimberly Edds, a spokeswoman for the DA’s office.

“It wasn’t motivated by hate,” Edds told KTLA, saying Tanber’s girlfriend, Elizabeth Thornburg, was also not guilty of a hate crime.

“There wasn’t evidence to support a hate crime on either individual,” she said.

Edds said Tanber was motivated to kill by a verbal altercation between his girlfriend and the victim, not by the victim’s racial background.

On the night of Sept. 8, 2015, Tanber was at The Original Patsy’s Irish Pub in Laguna Niguel with Thornburg, when she got into a heated exchange with Shayan Mazroei as they smoked outside the bar, according to prosecutors. They had been arguing earlier while playing pool, something both the prosecution and defense agreed on during the trial, according to the O.C. Register.

Surveillance video captured Thornburg spitting on him several times. Prosecutors said Mazroei also spit on her before she chased him back inside the bar.

Eventually, a bouncer who knew Mazroei asked Thornburg and Tanber to leave, the Register reported. So they waited outside the bar. Video shows Tanber going back inside when the bouncer leaves.

He punched Mazroei and stabbed him in the heart and then in the shoulder, prosecutors said. Mazroei collapsed after stumbling back into the bar.

He was later pronounced dead at Mission Hospital in Mission Viejo.

A photo of Shayan Mazroei is seen outside a Laguna Niguel home, where a vigil was held in his honor on Sept. 12, 2015. (Credit: KTLA)
A photo of Shayan Mazroei is seen outside a Laguna Niguel home, where a vigil was held in his honor on Sept. 12, 2015. (Credit: KTLA)

Tanber fled the area but authorities found him three days later at a Westminster motel, where Orange County sheriff’s deputies arrested him.

Prosecutors said Thornburg was charged with being an accessory after the fact.

In the days after the murder, Mazroei’s family called for a hate crime investigation. The family’s attorney said Tanber was a member of PEN1, which is designated by the Anti-Defamation League as a white supremacist gang.

“This wasn’t supposed to happen. It was a racist act,” Mazroei’s girlfriend, Madilyn Legaard, said in the days after the killing. “This isn’t the type of thing that should happen to a 22-year-old kid.”

According to the National Iranian American Council, civil rights organizations joined other advocacy groups in writing a letter to the Department of Justice calling for authorities to open a federal hate crime investigation into Mazroei’s death.

Just months before the murder, Tanber was behind bars after admitting in 2007 to helping beat to death with a claw hammer a 26-year-old man who stole money from the ex-girlfriend of a fellow white supremacist gang member. He pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter after juror misconduct led to a mistrial, according to prosecutors.

Edds, the DA’s office spokeswoman, said Tanber has since renounced his identity as a white supremacist.

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