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North Texas teen Zephaniah “Zephi” Trevino, who claims she was a victim of sex trafficking coerced into a robbery, was indicted last week on two felony charges for her alleged part in a fatal 2019 robbery, but her legal team says they’re confident she won’t be convicted.
A Dallas County grand jury returned the indictments for murder and aggravated robbery stemming from the August 2019 killing of 24-year-old Carlos Arajeni-Arriaza Morillo, who was shot dead at an apartment complex in Grand Prairie. Another person was injured.
Authorities allege that Philip Baldenegro, Jesse Martinez and Trevino had gone there together to carry out a robbery. Shortly after, they charged Baldenegro and Martinez, who were both 18 at the time of the killing, with capital murder and aggravated robbery.
Charges for Trevino were tied up in court, however, because her family and legal team claim she was a victim of sex-trafficking when the 2019 incident took place.
Her legal team and supporters say Trevino was used to lure in the two victims of the shooting with promises of sex. Trevino was just 16 at the time. Baldenegro and Martinez were 18. Attorneys for the other two involved have maintained the sex trafficking claims are false and that Trevino orchestrated the robbery.
Attorneys for Martinez and Baldenegro won a court order in March to show evidence they said disputed the trafficking claims. Lee Bright, representing Martinez, said the evidence showed Trevino was “intimately involved” in the planning of the robbery.
That month, NBC aired a news segment showing some of the evidence the two attorneys had released. It included a photo of a gun-wielding young woman whom the attorneys claimed was Trevino.
The video segment was removed after one of Trevino’s attorneys, Justin Moore, told the network the photo was in fact not of his client.
In a statement in NBC’s online text story, Moore said that “it has been confirmed that this was not a photograph of Zephaniah, but a photograph of an unidentified woman off of a social media account called HoodCouplesGoals.”
He added that the release of the evidence was meant to smear and publicly assassinate Trevino’s character.
Despite petitions and support from celebrities like Jaime Lee Curtis and Kim Kardashian West, Trevino was certified to stand trial as an adult in February. Though she was arrested for capital murder, Trevino was indicted on the lesser charge of murder after her trial last week.
Bright thinks it’s about time that the indictments were handed out. He said, “I genuinely wish them the best. I think some bad tactical decisions have been made.”
David Finn, Baldenegro’s attorney said: “I’m not surprised that the grand jury saw through the avalanche of lies and deceit, and I fully anticipate that the jury that ultimately here’s the case will like wise see through the story that is being told. The story is a work of fiction and I’m afraid it’s going to blow up in her face.”
Moore said in a statement that the indictments are no surprise to “anyone who has a real understanding of the legal system and its failures.”
Throughout the case, he said they argued that the Grand Prairie Police and Dallas County failed to conduct a “real” child sex trafficking investigation, and Trevino was hastily arrested and charged.
“Unfortunately, without us having the ability to cross-examine the DA’s witnesses, they were able to do what they always do: persuade a grand jury to indict,” Moore said. “The silver lining here, though, is that this grand jury saw that a capital murder charge was extremely punitive, and now Zephi faces a murder charge instead. That’s a small victory.”
Moore said he’s glad Trevino is facing a lesser charge than Baldenegro and Martinez, whom he called “her exploiters.”
“We still believe she should not have to defend her victimhood under the threat of a murder conviction, but we have been able to stand our ground and lessen her exposure,” Moore said. “The fight and marathon continue for Zephi.”
Trevino’s family and legal team are still waiting to hear when their first court appearance will be. Moore said they are confident they’ll come on top in upcoming trial for the charges.
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