GRAND PRAIRIE, Texas (NewsNation Now) — Two teenagers just outside of Dallas, Texas now face capital murder charges.
At the center of the story: 17-year-old Zephaniah “Zephi” Trevino and 19-year-old Philip Baldenegro.
Both have been accused of a deadly shooting that happened in August 2019.
The young girl claims she isn’t guilty and that she was being sex trafficked by Baldenegro.
Baldenegro’s attorney called the sex trafficking allegations a “smoke screen.”
The case takes a new step next week.
NewsNation sat down for the first time on national TV with family and defense attorneys for both sides.
Because Trevino is a juvenile, NewsNation was not granted access to the court records of this case.
Both teams are now asking the court of public opinion to hear them out and both sides are begging to be believed.
Two sides to the story
“This is happening in America. This is happening every day. This happened to my child, it can happen to anyone, any class, any race,” said Zephaniah’s mother Crystal Trevino.
“I wouldn’t be going public with this information unless I had this avalanche of Hollywood Kim Kardashian, Jamie Lee Curtis, Jihad, saying that my guy was a sex trafficker,” said Baldenegro’s attorney David Finn.
It was the summer of 2019 in Grand Prairie, Texas, when Zephaniah Trevino and Philip Baldenegro started spending time together. Finn said the two were high school classmates and dating.
“It was a boyfriend-girlfriend romantic relationship. 18-year-old guy, 16-year-old girl. They did what kids do,” said Finn.
Zephaniah’s mother Crystal and family attorney Justin Moore said they vehemently disagree.
“We have evidence that shows great abuse from this man against this child,” Moore said. “So, I believe their relationship was one of predator and prey.”
“When I met Philip in our home, he was introduced to us as a friend,” Crystal said.
But Crystal said the relationship was far from friendly, now claiming that her daughter was being sex trafficked by Baldenegro. Living under threats and forced to engage in violent, non-consensual activity.
“She would isolate herself. She would not talk a lot. She was losing weight. She would leave out of the house in one outfit and come home in something that was totally inappropriate. Clothes we didn’t buy her,” Crystal said.
Finn called the sex trafficking allegations against his client “a false narrative.”
He said he’s reviewed both teens’ cellphones — records he plans to show in court, but can’t release since the case involves a juvenile. He said texts and images on Zephaniah’s phone don’t show a girl fearing for her safety, but one who reveled in rebellion.
“OK, Zephi if that’s the case, what about all these pictures of you smoking dope and having sex with all these other guys? Were you forced to do all of that? That you recorded on your own? In her phone she’s looking for guns all the time,” Finn said. “For months searching: ‘Glock,’ ‘Glock starter pistol,’ ‘Glock 38,’ pages of it.”
Then, in August 2019, both teams agree that Zephaniah and Baldenegro were hanging out at an apartment with a third acquaintance, Jesse Martinez.
That apartment became the scene of an armed robbery turned murder.
“What we know is that two grown men showed up to Philip Baldenegro’s apartment to purchase sex from the child,” Moore said.
“The child” being Zephaniah.
Baldenegro’s attorney agreed and said that in an attempt to rob those two men, they were lured to the apartment under false pretenses, but he said Zephaniah was the mastermind.
“So Zephi’s texting these guys, pretending that her name is Julie, the 14-year-old that’s gonna have sex,” Finn said. “So, these guys think they’re gonna bring weed and coke and Xanax and have a big old party and these guys are gonna have sex with underage girls.”
“Philip Baldenegro and another adult accomplice savagely beat these two men,” Moore said. “They pistol-whipped them. They then followed them out to the parking lot and Mr. Baldenegro ended up murdering one of the pedophiles that were there to purchase this young child.”
The 24-year-old shooting victim, dead on the scene. The second man who showed up suffered minor injuries.
Advocates for Zephaniah are keeping many details of what happened that night close to the chest but said that any involvement on her end was forced. They also added that because she is a child, it was legally impossible for her to make those decisions on her own.
“She didn’t know she had a voice, she didn’t,” her mom Crystal said. “I don’t know the horrors and the details, but those were grown men. Grown men who looked at my child and were gonna abuse her, rape her, do whatever they did to her.”
Case captures celebrity attention
The case garnered worldwide attention.
Jamie Lee Curtis even took out a full-page ad in The Dallas Morning News backing the young girl.
A GoFundMe page to raise defense funds for the Trevinos has raised just over $100,000 and a petition seeking justice is closing in on 400,000 signatures.
“Jamie Lee Curtis has got a platform, Kim Kardashian has got a platform and I think they mean well. I think that they have been used, I think they’ve been misguided, I think they’ve been deceived,” Finn said.
Markie Martin: David Finn has also said this idea of Zephaniah calling herself a sex trafficking victim is to garner sympathy. Is there any truth to that from your team?
Moore: David Finn is a monster. His comments that she’s trying to garner sympathy, completely disgusting.
Crystal: Do you know how hard it is for any victim of any situation to speak up? And not be heard? It’s hard. It’s very hard. So, how can you say that?
Markie Martin: And, so you are sure beyond a reasonable doubt that this accusation coming from her family and her team is false?
What’s next in the case
Both teens are currently out on bond.
Crystal said her daughter — the one who was on the school softball and volleyball teams, an honors student who sang in the church choir on Sundays — now is spending what could be her final days at home.
In an ankle monitor, focusing on online school and family. She said if Zephaniah is found guilty, life as she knew it is gone.
And as for Baldenegro, his attorney left NewsNation with this:
Next week, a monumental step in this case. On Monday, Zephaniah will have her adult certification hearing, where the state will decide whether or not to try her as an adult.
NewsNation reached out to the Dallas District Attorney, who declined to comment.
If she is tried as an adult, she faces life in prison. She turns 18 in February.