Zephaniah Trevino a Texas teenager who has been charged with capital murder is either a teen killer or a sex trafficking victim. According to police Zephaniah Trevino was present when the victim, Carlos Arajeni-Arriaza Morillo was fatally shot during a robbery. However Zephaniah Trevino family is saying the teenager was controlled by an older man.
According to police Zephaniah Trevino and two other men, Phillip Baldenegro and Jesse Martinez, lured the victim and another man to a home. When inside of the home the victim and the other man were shot, the other man survived the attack. Phillip Baldenegro has admitted to shooting both of the men.
However Phillip Baldenegro, Jesse Martinez and Zephaniah Trevino were all charged with capital murder. Police are saying that Zephaniah Trevino lured the two men to the apartment and that according to Texas prosecutors she will be tried as an adult and face life in prison
A number of celebrities have reached out and spoken about the Zephaniah Trevino case saying that she is a teenage victim and should be treated like a juvenile and not a teen killer. That the now seventeen year old was being forced by her boyfriend to have sex for money and that she was told to lure the two victims to the home in fear of her life. However prosecutors believe she was a willing participant.
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For a year, Zephi Trevino has been in custody at the Henry Wade Justice Center
She’s charged with capital murder for an incident in May 2019. Two other men also face capital murder charges.
Police and attorneys for all three suspects agree one victim was injured and another was killed in a shooting at the apartment.
But Zephi’s parents say she is a victim, not a suspect, and should be released.
Zephi Trevino played soccer and volleyball and was involved at church, until, her mother says, Zephi got involved with the wrong people.
“I think as parents we saw signs, we just didn’t know what they were,” said Zephi’s mother Crystal Trevino.
It wasn’t until May 2019 when Crystal realized what was going on with her daughter. At the time, Zephi was 16.
Crystal Trevino calls her daughter a sex trafficking victim and says it can happen to any young, impressionable girl.
She says she even had safeguards for Zephi, including a phone tracker.
“We had things in place that we thought would protect her from a lot of things but it turned into my worst nightmare,” said Crystal.
One evening her mother couldn’t reach her, hours after Zephi said she was going to the mall with friends.
“I kept texting her. ‘Where are you? Come home.’ She just kind of went off the map and we didn’t hear back from her,” said Crystal.
Crystal says when her daughter got home that night Zephi seemed out of it, like she had been drugged, and went straight to bed.
“She woke up probably about 11:30-ish in the evening and crawled up next to me and did not move and cried,” said Crystal.
What Zephi Trevino’s parents didn’t know was that their daughter had been at an apartment in Grand Prairie.
She was there with two men, Phillip Baldenegro and Jesse Martinez, who were 18 and 19 years old at the time.
Police say Baldenegro and Martinez, with Zephi Trevino’s help, lured two men to the apartment, then ambushed and robbed them.
Baldenegro has admitted he shot both men, killing one of them.
Baldenegro, Martinez and Zephi Trevino are all charged with capital murder.
Attorney David Finn represents Baldenegro.
“She brought the guys to the apartment and set the whole thing up,” said Finn.
Zephi Trevino’s parents, her attorney and Baldenegro’s attorney agree the men were there to have sex with Zephi, but Zephi’s parents claim Baldenegro was forcing their daughter to have sex for money.
Baldenegro’s attorney says his client admits he pulled the trigger, but he is not a pimp.
“She is no victim. My client Philip Baldenegro is 19 and I think she was 16 at the time. They had a boyfriend-girlfriend relationship that is born out on my client’s cellphone,” said Finn.
“And the thought of your child with men. That’s a mother’s worst nightmare,” said Crystal Trevino.
She says Zephi Trevino told her Baldenegro and Martinez threatened to harm her family if she told them what was happening.
“I am angry because she is [in jail]. I’m angry the system has not fought for her and I am upset because she does not have counseling and she needs help to heal and she needs support and she is not getting that,” said Trevino.
Crystal Trevino says her daughter was offered a 10-year plea deal, which she declined. She faces up to 40 years in prison.
Zephi Trevino has been at the Henry Wade Justice center for a year.
“I can’t even hug her. I can’t even talk to her,” said Crystal.
For months, Zephi’s parents searched for an attorney to help them free their daughter. Civil rights lawyer Justin Moore is helping the family.
“When I heard the story and kind of what they had been going through and how they thought they were not adequately being represented, I decided to dig deeper and see if I could find a way to help them,” said Moore.
With Moore’s help, Zephi Trevino’s case has gotten the attention of record mogul Jason Flom, who heads Lava Records and once ran Capitol Records.
He is also one of the co-founders of the Innocence Project, which has helped secure the release of hundreds of wrongfully convicted people.
“It’s crazy to think that while we are sitting here today, she is sitting in a jail cell awaiting her fate. As a child. She’s a child. What the hell are we doing?” said Flom.
Flom says he thinks Dallas District Attorney John Creuzot should take a closer look at the case.
“On what planet does it make sense that we are going to charge her with capital murder? It’s a disastrously failed social policy,” said Flom.
The district attorney and prosecutors are prohibited by law from talking about juvenile cases. Moore says that’s part of the problem — almost everything in the juvenile courts is done in secret.
”I think we have a system that when children are being prosecuted, it’s hard for the parent, child and counsel to be on the same page because of the privacy laws that juveniles are, quote-unquote, ‘protected’ by,” said Moore.
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A North Texas teenager whose murder case has drawn attention from celebrities including Kim Kardashian West will be prosecuted in adult court, a Dallas County judge decided.
Zephaniah Trevino of Grand Prairie, who turned 18 on Feb. 19, was booked into the Dallas County jail on Feb. 12 after state District Judge Cheryl Lee Shannon’s ruling in juvenile court. Trevino remains jailed in lieu of $750,000 bail.
Trevino’s family and lawyers have said she was the victim of sex trafficking and was coerced into the Aug. 3, 2019, robbery in Grand Prairie that left 24-year-old Carlos Arajeni-Arriaza Morillo dead. Trevino was 16 at the time.
“I believe that no child should be certified as an adult, and the fact that this child here has shown that she likely was victimized by the aggressors definitely compounds the stain on the certification,” defense attorney Justin Moore said
Trevino faces charges of capital murder and aggravated robbery. A capital murder charge carries only two punishment options: the death penalty or life in prison without parole. But the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that defendants who were juveniles at the time of the crime cannot be sentenced to death or life in prison without the possibility of parole, even if they stand trial as an adult. If convicted on the capital murder charge, Trevino would automatically have to serve 50 years in prison before becoming eligible for parole.
Had she remained in juvenile court, she couldn’t face more than 40 years in prison.
Prosecutors initially offered Trevino 10 years in prison in exchange for a plea of guilty to the aggravated robbery charge. They then offered five years on the same charge shortly before the judge certified her as an adult, Moore said. Defense lawyers and prosecutors haven’t discussed where the offer stands since the hearing to certify Trevino, he said
Two men, Jesse Martinez and Philip Aguilera Baldenegro, face the same charges in the shooting. Both were 18 at the time of the crime. Anyone over 17 is automatically tried as an adult in Texas.
Grand Prairie police initially said Martinez and Baldenegro lured Morillo and another man to the 300 block of Northeast 5th Street with the intent of robbing them. The victims fought back, and Morillo was shot during the struggle.
Trevino’s lawyers have said Morillo and the other man were pursuing sex from her, even though they knew she was underage.
Baldenegro’s attorney, David Finn, has said his client doesn’t dispute being the triggerman. But Finn argues that Trevino orchestrated the robbery and was not a sex trafficking victim, and that Trevino’s supporters have concocted the story to garner sympathy.
Last year, the case was the subject of a podcast, Wrongful Conviction With Jason Flom. Actress Jamie Lee Curtis purchased a full-page ad in The Dallas Morning News calling on District Attorney John Creuzot to dismiss the charges.
“All the DA has to do is drop the charges against this innocent girl,” Curtis said. “She didn’t hold a gun. She didn’t create the scenario. She was being sold for sex.”
Creuzot has declined to talk publicly about the case.
In Texas, defendants can be found guilty of murder if they participated in a crime — regardless of whether they pulled the trigger.