Zephaniah “Zephi” Trevino, a teenaged sex trafficking victim, appeared on Wrongful Conviction with Jason Flom Wednesday to denounce the capital murder charges that have been ordered against her.
Before 2019, Trevino was an ordinary teen from Grand Prairie, Texas that was involved in both her church and her high school softball team. When Trevino became involved with the “wrong crowd” of teenagers, she began spending time with an adult man who eventually groomed her for sex trafficking via the influence of drugs, coercion, emotional abuse and manipulation, as well as physical threats to both Trevino and her family.
Over time, this adult man forced Trevino to participate in sexual acts with other adults numerous times. In August 2019, a man with whom Trevino was being forced to perform sexual acts was fatally shot by Philip Baldenegro. Now, Trevino and Baldenegro are being charged with capital murder in the shooting of 24-year-old Carlos Arajeni-Arriaza Morillo.
Trevino’s mother, as well as several other advocates for the teen, allege that Trevino was being trafficked by Baldenegro. According to an online petition that has collected more than 33,000 signatures, performing sex acts on men like Morillo was part of Trevino’s pattern of abuse with Baldenegro. However, Baldenegro’s attorney, David Finn, has asserted that Trevino is not a sex trafficking victim and that she and Baldenegro were in a “boyfriend-girlfriend relationship.”
Finn told WFAA that Trevino had planned to rob Morillo and another man and had lured the two of them to an apartment under the guise of having sex with them. Finn suggested that Morillo had “ripped her off” and that the shooting must have occurred as a means of retaliation due to the botched robbery.
Trevino is currently out on bond and awaiting a trial that will begin on January 14. She continues to maintain her innocence and shared her story on Wrongful Conviction with Jason Flom in order to clear her name. Flom, a founding board member of the Innocence Project and a criminal justice advocate for over 25 years, was also joined by national civil rights and criminal defense attorney Jason A. Moore.
Over the years, Flom’s podcast has highlighted the plights of wrongfully convicted individuals such as Amanda Knox, Rodney Reed, and Brendan Dassey. Trevino’s mother, Crystal, hopes that the well-known podcast will help raise awareness of her daughter’s case and increase her public support overall.