A member of a prominent Orange County white supremacist gang was convicted Wednesday of second-degree murder for the stabbing death of a man in a Laguna Niguel bar four years ago.
Jurors also found true a sentencing enhancement for the personal use of a weapon against Craig Matthew Tanber, who, because of prior convictions, faces up to 56 years to life behind bars. He is scheduled to be sentenced Feb. 7.
Senior Deputy District Attorney Mark Birney had sought a first-degree murder conviction, while Tanber’s attorney argued the 41-year-old parolee acted in self-defense in stabbing 22-year-old Shayan Mazroei at Patsy’s Irish Pub on Sept. 6, 2015.
When jurors, who deliberated for about two days, indicated they were split on first-degree murder, Birney dismissed that charge to clear the way for the panel to deliberate on second-degree murder “and then they quickly convicted on that,” he said.
“It was a diligent and hard-working jury,” Birney said. “Mr. Tanber has proven he is a violent and dangerous person now in at least two occasions.”
Tanber was free on parole at the time of the deadly conflict. He had been charged with murder in the April 4, 2004, beating death of 26-year-old Cory Lamons in Huntington Beach, but struck a plea deal with prosecutors after a mistrial was declared when an alternate juror Googled one of the co-defendants and shared the information with other panelists.
Tanber pleaded guilty on Feb. 2, 2007, to voluntary manslaughter and admitted a sentencing enhancement for committing the crime to benefit a street gang, according to court records. He also pleaded guilty to dissuading a witness by force, street terrorism and assault with a deadly weapon or force likely to produce great bodily injury and was sentenced to 13 years in prison.
Mazroei was playing pool with friends at the bar when he stepped outside to smoke a cigarette and got into a conflict with Tanber’s girlfriend, Elizabeth Anne Thornburg, Birney told jurors in his opening statement.
Thornburg shared “her views of Persians and of people from the Middle East” with Mazroei and also spit at him, according to Birney.
Mazroei, in turn, “spit on her three or four times” as he walked back into the bar, prompting Thornburg to chase after him, the prosecutor said.
Mazroei appealed to bar security guard Mark Fillingham for help as an “upset and enraged” Thornburg chased him around the pool table, Birney said.
Fillingham told Thornburg to leave the bar as Tanber exited the bathroom, Birney said. Just after midnight, Fillingham told the couple “they’re not coming back into the bar,” according to the prosecutor, who said two bar patrons saw Tanber “ranting” about “having a knife and wanting to stab someone.”
A bartender summoned Fillingham for help with another issue, leaving Tanber unattended at the door, according to Birney, who said the defendant opened the door and yelled “`you!’ as he motions to Shayan.”
Mazroei “casually” walked over to the door and Tanber struck him “with a very strong left-hand punch” to the face, then plunged a knife into the victim’s heart and left shoulder blade, the prosecutor said. Mazroei “stumbled” back into the bar and collapsed, Birney said. The victim was pronounced dead at a nearby hospital.
Tanber ran away and deputies later found his windbreaker and the knife, Birney said.
Thornburg has been charged with being an accessory after the fact for allegedly picking up Tanber in the area and giving him a ride to her residence in Mission Viejo.
Tanber’s attorney, Alisha Montoro of the Orange County Public Defender’s Office, said her client went out that evening to a brewery in Mission Viejo with Thornburg and a couple of other friends, where they “had no problems, no issue, no troubles.”
Tanber then went to Patsy’s with Thornburg because she wanted to play pool, Montoro said. The two sat at the bar initially and were “laughing” and “minding their own business,” she said.
Thornburg went to sign up to play pool and the conflict with the victim started when she asked his name so she’d know when it was her turn at the pool table, Montoro said. Thornburg complained Mazroei was “rude, aggressive,” but did not insult him with a racial epithet, the defense attorney said.
“She said something like, `You’re a SOB,”’ and Tanber advised her to “let it go,” Montoro said.
When Thornburg encountered Mazroei later when she went outside the pub to smoke, they end up “spitting on each other,” with Thornburg spitting on the victim’s arm, Montoro said. Mazroei flicked a lit cigarette at Thornburg, she said.
Mazroei was laughing as Thornburg chased him around in the bar, then he “told the bouncer, `Come get this bitch before I slap her,”’ Montoro said.
When the bouncer ejected Thornburg and Tanber, she complained that it was unfair and that they were giving favorable treatment to Mazroei because he was a regular at the bar, Montoro said.
Tanber was heard “mumbling” about having a knife, but he also said he had trouble in the past and it was not worth escalating the conflict though he thought it wasn’t “fair to treat a woman that way,” Montero said.
Mazroei was “looking for a fight” and had to be held back by his friends at one point during the back-and-forth, she said.
Mazroei hit Tanber after the confrontation at the door, so the defendant used his knife to defend himself, Montoro said.
“He’s afraid for his safety.” she told the jury. “Mr. Tanber never intended to hurt Mr. Mazroei, never intended to kill him. He acted in self-defense.”
Tanber’s case generated headlines before his trial when his attorney alleged sheriff’s deputies used two confidential informants to track down the defendant in a motel room and then directed one of the informants, the mother of Tanber’s son, to inject him with heroin before his arrest and then wrongly questioned the “incoherent” suspect.
A motion to have the case dismissed on allegations of outrageous governmental misconduct was denied.