North Texas Teen Zephi Trevino Will Be Tried as Adult, Court Rules

After the judge certified Zephaniah “Zephi” Trevino, a North Texas teen charged in a 2019 murder case, as an adult, she was  immediately taken into custody.
After the judge certified Zephaniah “Zephi” Trevino, a North Texas teen charged in a 2019 murder case, as an adult, she was immediately taken into custody. Adam Jones, Ph.D. / Creative Commons
Zephaniah “Zephi” Trevino, a North Texas teen charged in a 2019 murder case, will be tried as an adult, a judge  ruled Friday afternoon.

Judge Cheryl Lee Shannon asked that more security be brought into the courtroom ahead of the decision. Trevino was 16 at the time of the murder and turns 18 this month. As an adult, she faces the possibility of life in prison without parole. Immediately after the ruling, she was taken into custody.

One of Trevino’s lawyers, Justin Moore, said the fight isn't over yet. With Trevino sitting in jail, her team will now work to appeal the adult certification.

As Dallas County prosecutors worked on the certification, Trevino’s legal team, family and some celebrities tried to get the case dismissed by claiming she was being trafficked at the time of the murder.

“This judge certified a victim to be an adult for a crime that her abuser committed, and hopefully a higher court can see it from that perspective,” Moore said.

Celebrities such as Kim Kardashian West and actress Jaimie Lee Curtis have both shared Trevino’s story, which was also highlighted in an episode of the Wrongful Conviction Podcast. Curtis and Kardashian have pleaded with the public to help get the charges dropped, making the same sex trafficking claims.

In December, Curtis bought a full-page ad in The Dallas Morning News asking for help putting pressure on Dallas County District Attorney John Creuzot to have the charges dropped.

Last month, Trevino's attorneys said Creuzot revealed bias when he shared a social media post from the lawyer for one of her codefendants and asked that he remove himself from her prosecution. Creuzot didn't.

Attorneys for the codefendants have consistently said Trevino masterminded the robbery and the sex trafficking claims are baseless. In the coming weeks, they plan to release evidence to prove it. They said the court ruled in favor of a motion that would allow them to do so.

Moore said any evidence to the contrary of the sex-trafficking claims would be news to him.

In August 2019, residents of an apartment complex on the 300 block of Northeast 5th Street in Grand Prairie heard two gunshots, the sounds of a robbery gone wrong. The shooting left 24-year-old Carlos Arajeni-Arriaza Morillo dead and another person wounded.

Trevino, Philip Baldenegro and Jesse Martinez were all there, authorities said. Baldenegro and Martinez have already been charged with capital murder and aggravated robbery. For the last few months, Dallas County prosecutors worked to certify Trevino for trial as an adult.

Lee Bright, Martinez’s attorney, said he doesn’t think there will be grounds for an appeal. David Finn, Baldenegro’s attorney, said he wasn’t surprised at all by the certification. “In fact, I would’ve been shocked if she weren’t certified,” Finn said.

He said he doesn’t have anything against Trevino. In fact, a lesser sentence for her could mean a lesser sentence for his client, who admitted to pulling the trigger.

“I’m not trying to pile on this girl. I kind of feel sorry for her,” Finn said. “But when you’re taking shots at my guy and you’re making stuff up, I’m not going to sit back and take it.”

Having his client labeled a sex trafficker certainly wouldn’t work in his favor either, though.

It’s been a hard case for Trevino’s legal team to defend in the media, as they can’t comment on the specifics of the case because of juvenile confidentiality laws in Texas, Moore said.

The certification doesn’t effect whether the evidence is publicly available, Finn said. However, he hopes that evidence the court allows them to release will clear the waters of the case and the sex trafficking claims revolving around it.

Moore said they prepared Trevino for every possible outcome of the certification hearing and hopes she sees the results as just another step in the process of being set free. 
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Jacob Vaughn, a former Brookhaven College journalism student, has written for the Observer since 2018, first as clubs editor. More recently, he's been in the news section as a staff writer covering City Hall, the Dallas Police Department and whatever else editors throw his way.
Contact: Jacob Vaughn