Attorneys for two of the three defendants in a robbery that ended in a man’s death say the evidence they’re now allowed to reveal casts new light on the third defendant whose supporters say should not be prosecuted at all.
Zephi Trevino’s attorney Justin Moore said the new assertions from the other side are part of a smear campaign to discredit the young woman who says she is a victim of sex trafficking. Moore said she should be excused from criminal charges.
“If it was not for the fact that she was being trafficked she would not have been at that murder,” Moore said.
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For more than a year in social media and online posts, Trevino’s parents and supporters have made that assertion. They asked for contributions to help support her. The posts depict a young scholar and athlete forced into sex trafficking and drew national attention from celebrities.
Trevino turned 18 in February and has been declared an adult in court. She was a 16-year-old minor when she and the two young men were accused of a robbery that went bad at a Grand Prairie apartment complex.
Carlos Arajeni-Arriaza Morillo, 24, was killed. Another robbery victim was injured but survived.
Now that she is no longer protected from the release of information as a minor, the other attorneys won a court order that allows them to show evidence which they say disputes the sex trafficking claims.
Lee Bright represents 20-year-old Jesse Martinez who was 18 at the time of the crime. Bright said Martinez remains in jail because he is unable to raise money to post bond for pre-trial release as the other two have.
“Nowhere in the body of the evidence of this case is there any indication of sex trafficking at all. That’s been a false narrative,” Bright said.
Bright showed photos and videos captured from Trevino’s cell phone that depict drug use and handling guns. Trevino curses about police and behaves much differently in those recordings than in the images from her online posts.
Bright showed copies of letters Trevino wrote while in juvenile detention. One asks a friend to remove information from her Instagram page that suggested drug use and violence. In another Trevino says she thought she was “untouchable,” but has learned otherwise.
“It shows that she was intimately involved in the planning of this. She admitted to it, to more than one person that will at her trial openly testify to that, that she had done this before and admitted to people that she had set up robberies before to set men up to steal drugs from them,” Bright said.
Bright said there was no indication that Trevino participated in the crime against her will.
The other defendant, 20-year-old Philip Baldenegro, was also 18 at the time of the crime. Baldenegro is accused of firing the bullet that killed the man.
Baldenegro is represented by attorney David Finn, a former state district judge. At a press conference with Finn in August, Baldenegro himself spoke about Trevino.
“I didn't sex traffic her and I didn't do anything to harm her. I was treating her with respect,” Baldenegro said.
His mother Claudia said the Baldenegro family regrets the tragedy.
"We did tell my son to stay away from this little girl, but he never listened. He didn't listen. He was in love with her," his mother said.
Moore said the other lawyers are cherry-picking evidence and ignoring facts that support Trevino’s claims.
“It does nothing but set up a smokescreen to deflect from the notion or the fact that their clients are sex traffickers and they murdered someone during the commission of such,” Moore said.
Sex trafficking activist Rebekah Charleston, who has been working with Trevino's defense, said she was once a victim herself and it does not matter whether actual sex occurred in the crime.
“The way that the law is written, even if it was just an attempt at commercial sex, that is considered sex trafficking,” Charleston said.
The photos and background from Trevino’s phone are further support of sex trafficking, according to Charleston.
“That is what we consider a high-risk victim, a young child that is exhibiting those behaviors,” Charleston said.
Trevino’s aggravated robbery and murder charges are due to be presented to a grand jury for possible indictment in April according to court records.
The records show that the office of District Attorney John Creuzot has invited Trevino’s side to submit evidence on her behalf in advance of the grand jury proceedings and that the offer still stands.
“Although our office did not receive a response, we are committed to seeking justice, " said a letter from Assistant District Attorney LaQuita Long.
Moore said the DA’s office already heard additional evidence before pushing to have Trevino declared an adult.
“The DA's office has shown they are overly aggressive in prosecuting her and convicting her,” Moore said.
Moore said his side does not have the court order that permits revealing all the additional evidence it has, but that the evidence will be heard in court if the grand jury decides to pursue the case.
Baldenegro and Martinez have already been indicted for aggravated robbery and capital murder but not sex trafficking. They could receive sentences of up to life in prison. The debate among codefendants may help determine who gets the tougher punishment for convictions.
The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that defendants who were minors at the time of the crime can not be sentenced to life in prison. If Trevino had remained a minor for the criminal case, the prison term for a conviction would have been lower.
Editor's Note: In the original video included with this report we showed photographs provided to us by the attorney for one of her co-defendants. One of those pictures showed a young woman holding a gun. Zephi Trevino’s lawyers have since told us the woman in that particular picture is in fact not their client. The video has been removed.
Statement from Trevino's Attorney Justin A. Moore:
Yesterday, Lee Bright, attorney for Jesse Martinez, one of Zephi Trevino’s codefendants, released evidence that he claimed disproved her being trafficked at the hands of his client and Philip Baldenegro. The evidence he released on NBC 5 yesterday was not probative to the absence of trafficking, but only used to smear Zephi, publicly shame her and assassinate her character.
During the airing of last night’s story, Mr. Bright disclosed a number of images depicting Zephi as a gun-wielding marijuana smoker — images of absolutely no bearing to the issues of grooming and human trafficking. He presented a picture he purported to be Zephi and a man affectionately holding each other and pointing guns at the camera. However, 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.”
As attorneys we have a duty not to be dishonest for any reason, including using evidence to mislead the public. It is our continued position that Zephi was only present at this murder that involved Baldenegro and Martinez due to her being sex trafficked by them. For attorneys who represent her traffickers to use false evidence to rebut her claims, is not only damaging to Zephi, but to all sex trafficking victims and survivors.