Written by Jessica Helm, Camran Shealy, and Lindsey Hornung
Zephaniah Trevino, or as she likes to be called Zephi, is an example of someone who has experienced double victimization by the criminal justice system. Zephi is a victim of human trafficking, and yet is being charged with a crime she did not commit but was only a witness to. Her story is heartbreaking, and her case is still being fought today. However, there are ways you can help.
Zephi is from Grand Prairie, Texas. She loves to play sports, such as softball and volleyball. She was an honors student, and also sang in her church choir. Zephi also has three older siblings, two sisters and a brother. Her mother, Crystal Trevino, has told Zephi’s story to multiple media outlets. She continues to fight for her daughter, and so do Zephi’s siblings. According to her mother, Zephi had struggled with drug addiction in her freshman year of high school. This was due to an ex-boyfriend of Zephi's introducing her to drugs. During her sophomore year of high school, Zephi’s family started to notice her becoming more withdrawn from them. It has been noted that Zephi was sleeping a lot as well as losing weight during this time.
All of this is part of what led her to meet her trafficker, Philip Baldenegro. Zephi met him through social media when she was 16 and Baldenegro was 18. When Baldenegro met her family, he was introduced as a friend. After meeting Baldenegro and being concerned for Zephi, her parents installed a tracking app on her phone. One night, her mother says that Zephi did not come home and the tracking app was deleted off of her phone. Her family had no idea where she was. After two days had passed, Zephi came home wearing different clothes than the ones she left with and had not eaten anything.
The incident which Zephi is charged for occurred on August 3rd, 2019 at an apartment in Grand Prairie. Zephi was with Baldenegro and another man named Jesse Martinez who was 19 at the time. When they were at the apartment two grown men, one of them named Carlos Arageni-Arriaza Morillo who was 24, showed up at the apartment to purchase sex from Zephi who was 16. Supposedly, Baldenegro planned on robbing these two men. Baldenegro and another person who was unnamed, beat up these men and then Baldenegro shot and killed Morillo. The other man was wounded. The neighbors ended up calling the police after hearing two gunshots. Zephi and Baldenegro were both charged with capital murder.
After being incarcerated for over a year, Zephi was recently put in front of a judge to learn whether or not she would be charged as an adult. Despite pleas from Zephis family and attorneys, Judge Cheryl Lee Shannon ruled to have Zephi tried for capital murder as an adult in the state of Texas. Under this ruling Zephi could face life in prison without parole; all for a crime she did not commit. She has now been moved from Henry Wade Juvenile Justice Facility to an adult facility.
Recently, the prosecutor of Zephi’s case- Dallas District Attorney John Creuzot- has been asked to recuse himself. Creuzot has admitted to having a close friendship with Philip Baldenegro’s defense attorney David Finn. Creuzot even shared a tweet from Finn on his own feed. The tweet in question discussed Zephi and her case. This is not the first instance in which Creuzot has been accused of misconduct. Zephi’s family and lawyers have been attempting to put greater pressure on the Dallas DA to step back from this case due to his obvious bias. Creuzot is up for re-election in 2022 and needs to be replaced.
Due to the fact that Zephi was a minor when the crime she is accused of was committed, the public does not have access to many of the details surrounding the case. What we do know is that Zephi is being charged with capital murder under the Texas Penal Code: Title 5, chapter 19. We also know that Zephi is the victim of human trafficking. Sadly, the state of Texas does not allow victims of human trafficking to use an affirmative defense for minors.
Considering Zephi was a victim of sex trafficking, was a minor at the time, and was forced to be there, she should not be charged with anything. There are ways that you can help Zephi. There are multiple petitions for her, one is from change.org and another is from actionnetwork.org. Additionally, there is a Twitter and Instagram page called FreeZephi that is run by her family, which you can follow for updates. You can also use the hashtag #freezephi to spread more awareness to her case. Another step that can be taken is donating money for her legal fees to directlyto.org and or purchasing a hoodie or t-shirt from the FreeZephi pages on Instagram or Twitter to help raise money for her bond.
Yours in the fight,
Jessica Helm, Camran Shealy, and Lindsey Hornung