A Texas teen who has claimed to be a victim of sex trafficking was indicted this week for murder in connection to the murder of a man who allegedly purchased her from her pimp.
Zephaniah Trevino, 18, was facing charges of capital murder alongside Philip Junior Aguilera Baldenegro, 20, and Jesse Martinez, 20, in the shooting death of 24-year-old Carlos Arajeni-Arriaza Morillo in August 2019.
Despite not pulling the trigger, Trevino, who was 16 at the time, is accused of being part of a robbery that went wrong.
On Wednesday, a Dallas County grand jury lessened the charges against Trevino from capital murder to murder and aggravated robbery.
Her attorney Ashkan Mehryari called the decision ‘disappointing’ but not surprising, according to the Dallas Morning News.
Mehryari said he was glad to learn that the charge is murder, which has a minimum sentence of five years as opposed to capital murder, which is life in prison.
Zephaniah Trevino (left), 18, who has claimed to be a victim of sex trafficking has been indicted for murder in connection to the shooting death of Carlos Arajeni-Arriaza Morillo (right), 24, a man she said was her pimp
Trevino was facing charges of capital murder alongside Philip Junior Aguilera Baldenegro (right), 20, and Jesse Martinez (left), 20, in connection to the killing
On Wednesday, the grand jury indicted Trevino on a murder charge, which carries a minimum sentence of five years in prison
Lawyers for Baldenegro, the man accused of pulling the trigger, say the sex trafficking claims are ‘absolute fiction’ and designed to generate sympathy for Trevino.
They claim that Trevino was not a victim whatsoever and allegedly helped to set up the robbery before fleeing when it went wrong.
Lawyer David Finn claims the sex trafficking narrative is nothing more than a ‘smokescreen’ or ‘diversion’.
‘I’ve been a state prosecutor. I’ve been a federal prosecutor. I’ve been a criminal trial judge. I prosecuted real sex trafficking cases, both state and federal,’ Finn said.
‘As a judge, we had domestic violence cases that had elements of coercion and trafficking. And this allegation by Zephi Trevino, or her mother … and her attorneys — who are very good attorneys, I know them well — it’s complete bullsh*t.’
‘There is not one single shred of evidence that’s backed up in allegations of sex trafficking — not only as it relates to my client, but to anyone.’
As news of the charges made headlines last year, Trevino gained support from celebrities like Jamie Lee Curtis and Kim Kardashian.
In December, Curtis shared an open letter where urging Texas district attorney, John Creuzot, to drop the murder charge against the teen after her defense team said she was the innocent witness to her seller murdering her purchaser.
In the letter shared to her Instagram at the time, Curtis wrote: ‘I’m an actress, author and advocate for children, but most important of all, I’m a mother.
‘How is it possible that a 16-year-old girl, a victim of sex trafficking and sexual violence who was an innocent bystander in a crime, could possibly be held accountable for that crime? That is the brutal truth happening to Zephi Trevino today.
As news of the charges made headlines last year, Trevino gained support from celebrities like Jamie Lee Curtis and Kim Kardashian
Curtis at the time pleaded with Dallas County’s district attorney, John Creuzot, to drop the charges
A petition to drop the charges garnered more than 375,000 signatures last year while a fund set up for her legal defense raised more than $100,000 after Kim Kardashian tweeted about the case
‘The Dallas district attorney plans to try this teen sex trafficking victim as an adult when she is still just a child.’
‘Hearing her story pierced my mother’s heart and I am writing this as a way to help Zephi’s own mother, Crystal, fight to free her daughter,’ Curtis shared.
‘As a mother of two children, I am outraged. Our criminal justice system must be better than this. All the DA has to do is drop the charges against this innocent girl.
‘She didn’t hold a gun. She didn’t create the scenario. She was being sold for sex. And now, after being abused and victimized by her trafficker, she’s being victimized again — this time by the legal system that should be protecting her.’
Curtis said injustice ‘is so confounding that you need to put your name and your exposure where your mouth is but much more importantly, where your heart is’.
She ended: ‘Please join us to help put pressure on the DA. No family should have to endure this.’
Trevino alleges she was being sex trafficked by Baldenegro, who was 18 at the time of the killing
Trevino’s lawyers insist Trevino fell in with the wrong crowd and was groomed for prostitution
A petition to drop the charges garnered more than 375,000 signatures last year while a fund set up for her legal defense raised more than $100,000 after Kim Kardashian tweeted about the case.
Friends and family described Trevino as being a typical teenager in her Grand Prairie, Texas community.
But her life took a dangerous turn when she became involved in unhealthy relationships that led to drug use.
Her family said she started running away from home, eventually meeting an adult man who they allege began grooming her for sex trafficking using drugs, coercion, emotional manipulation and abuse, physical threats and threats against her family.
Her family claims that over time, Trevino was forced numerous times by her trafficker to participate in sexual acts with other adults.
After the public defender assigned to her case pushed her to take a plea deal with a long sentence, Trevino’s family retained national civil rights and criminal defense attorney Justin A. Moore and Dallas-based criminal defense attorney Mehryari.
Her lawyers insist Trevino fell in with the wrong crowd and was groomed for prostitution.
During the fatal incident she was being pimped ‘under duress’, and the man who was allegedly intending to pay to have sex with her knew she was underage.