Texas Teen Is Accused of Murder — But Advocates Say She’s a Sex Trafficking Victim, Not a Killer
Zephaniah Trevino did not pull the trigger in the fatal shooting that killed Carlos Arajeni-Arriaza Morillo in 2019
A Texas teen is accused of murder in connection with the fatal shooting of a man that occurred when she was 16. But her mother and other advocates say she’s a sex trafficking victim, not a killer, and that she was simply at the wrong place at the wrong time.
Zephaniah Trevino, 17, is one of three people charged with capital murder in the fatal shooting of Carlos Arajeni-Arriaza Morillo, 24, who was killed in a Grand Prarie apartment in August 2019, reports KRQE.
Another defendant, Philip Baldenegro, has admitted to fatally shooting Morillo and shooting and injuring another man as part of a robbery attempt, according to multiple reports.
Advocates for Trevino, including her mother, allege she was being sex trafficked by Baldenegro, who was 18 at the time of the killing. They say she was forced to perform sex acts on the shooting victims as part of a pattern of abuse that included physical threats and death threats to her family, according to an online petition that has garnered more than 33,000 signatures.
Trevino’s case is spotlighted in the first episode of the 11th season of the podcast Wrongful Conviction with Jason Flom, which airs Thursday and continues into 2021 with a dozen additional episodes.
According to a spokesperson from the podcast, Dallas County prosecutors want to try Trevino — who is currently being held in a juvenile detention facility — as an adult, pending a Jan. 4 hearing.
Prosecutors are prohibited by law from talking about juvenile cases.
In a statement to PEOPLE, Flom, a music executive and criminal justice reform advocate, said, "The authorities failed to protect this 16-year-old child, Zephiniah Trevino, from the sex traffickers who preyed on her and now they are trying to send her to prison for the rest of her life for a crime she clearly didn't commit. And to add insult to injury the DA wants to try her as an adult."
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Trevino's attorney, Justin A. Moore, said in a statement to PEOPLE that her case reflects a “broken criminal justice system that routinely overlooks these children as victims and, consequently, has no problem trying them as adults.”
But Baldenegro’s attorney David Finn told WFAA it was Trevino who “set the whole [robbery] up,” accusing her of luring the two shooting victims to the apartment to have sex. Finn told the Star-Telegram of Fort Worth that Trevino allegedly had said Morillo had "ripped her off."
Finn claimed Trevino is not a sex trafficking victim and that she and Baldenegro were in a “boyfriend-girlfriend relationship.” At the time of the killing, Baldenegro was 18 and Trevino was 16, and Texas criminal code prohibits sexual contact between adults of any age and children younger than 17.
Baldenegro, who is charged with aggravated robbery and capital murder, is currently free on bond, reports KRQE. It was not immediately clear if he has entered a plea to the charges against him.
Trevino’s mom, Crystal Trevino, told 11Alive her daughter was offered a plea deal that would give her 10 years in prison, but declined. The station reports Trevino faces 40 years in prison if convicted on all charges.
Crystal said her daughter played sports and was involved in her church before she fell in with the wrong crowd, saying the plight of her daughter is “a mother’s worst nightmare.”
On the night of the killing, Crystal said her daughter told her she was going to the mall with her friends, and that when she came home much later, she seemed out of it and possibly drugged, and went straight to bed, according to 11Alive.
“She woke up probably about 11:30-ish in the evening and crawled up next to me and did not move and cried,” Crystal Trevino said.