Scribbled in Farsi script, the phrase "love" was tattooed on the Iranian immigrant's forearm, serving as an emblem for the kind of person friends and family said Shayan Mazroei, 22, was.
On the collar of his alleged killer Craig Tanber, there is an equally emblematic tattoo. "PEN1" it reads, referring to "Public Enemy #1," which the Anti-Defamation League recognizes as an active white supremacist gang operating in California, the most active state for hate groups in the nation.
Now, as Tanber is due to be arraigned on for murder later this week, a coalition of Iranian Americans wants to know why he’s not facing hate crime charges, too.
In notes sent out to the media, Mazroei's family described him as a loving, social person who was studying mechanical engineering at Saddleback College and dreamed of owning his own business. His Facebook profile shows a smiling man who often posed with his father and friends for pictures.
Details of the slaying are still vague at best. Mazroei's family attorney says the situation started when Tanber's girlfriend Elizabeth Thornberg spat on Mazroei, calling him a "terrorist" and hurling racial epithets at him before her boyfriend stabbed him to death outside a pub in southern Orange County, Ca.
Tanber has been arrested and is facing charges of first-degree murder. He faces up to 76 years in prison if convicted, partly because of his criminal history, which involves a conviction of voluntary manslaughter for his involvement in the white gang beating death of a Huntington Beach man in 2004. He had only been out of prison a few weeks before he stabbed Mazroei.
Thornberg remains free with no charges against her. But it is her alleged role in the incident that has become the focus of hate crime allegations.
Yesterday, Mazroei’s family held a press conference urging prosecutors to pursue the case as a hate crime, which would require the state to prove the murder was committed because of racial, ethnic or religious prejudice. It would also mean Tanber would be facing a life sentence.
Tracking hate crimes is important, advocates say, because it helps to raise awareness of crimes of prejudice and resources for addressing them. But they’re notoriously difficult to prove in court, Fusion earlier this year found in a review of documents and interviews with attorneys, partly because they require prosecutors to prove a defendant’s intent at the moment of the crime.
Deputy District Attorney Larry Yellin has signaled that he is going to prosecute Mozraei’s stabbing as a standard murder. The case is complicated, he said, because it wasn't the alleged killer, but his date, who said the hateful words.
"There is evidence of racism, but there is no evidence of a crime committed by her, hate crime or otherwise, that started the incident," Yellin told NBC Los Angeles. Thornberg couldn’t be reached for comment.
Speaking to local news stations, the district attorney signaled that the investigation is ongoing, and that the office was looking into how Tanber got away and laid low for five days before being arrested. Eyewitnesses say that Tanber and Thornberg left the bar together after the stabbing, which might indeed implicate her as a co-conspirator or accessory.
"For anybody who helps a killer escape capture, we're going to continue to look at them and charge them if we can prove them in those cases," Yellin said.
In a letter to the U.S. Justice Department, the National Iranian American Coalition, with other Middle Eastern groups co-signing, urged a more thorough investigation.
"Eyewitness accounts suggest that this murder was motivated by hate. Mr. Mazroei’s friends have alleged that this altercation started with racist insults hurled at Mr. Mazroei," the letter read.
"Despite this overwhelming evidence, the Orange County District Attorney’s Office characterized the incident as a 'fight over a girl' and refused to acknowledge the racial motive in this case," it reads.
Daniel Rivero is a producer/reporter for Fusion who focuses on police and justice issues. He also skateboards, does a bunch of arts related things on his off time, and likes Cuban coffee.