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Des Moines teen who fatally stabbed abuser receives probation

Stephen Matthew Milligan
Wikimedia Commons

Pieper Lewis, a 17-year-old girl in Des Moines who was the victim of rape and sex trafficking, has been sentenced to five years of probation and deferred judgement for killing a 37-year-old man who allegedly assaulted her multiple times. She is also ordered to pay $150,000 to the victim’s family.

At the time of the incident in June 2020, Lewis was 15-years-old and homeless. She said the man she was staying with forced her to go with 37-year-old Zachary Brooks to have sex.

The morning after Brooks raped her, Lewis took a knife from next to the bed and stabbed him 30 times. She later pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter and willful injury.

Before her sentence was announced Tuesday, Lewis took to the witness stand to share a statement she had written. She said she is accountable for killing Brooks, but that her actions came out of betrayal and trauma.

“That day a combination of complicated actions took place resulting in the death of a person as well as the stolen innocence of a child,” Lewis said. “I wish the events that took place on June 1st, 2020 never occurred, but to say there is only one victim to the story is absurd.”

Lewis said she would accept whatever punishment the court handed down. Her fear, she said, was putting off her goal to work in fashion and graphic design. She completed high school before her classmates while in juvenile detention and designed a jersey for the Iowa Wolves basketball team.

“Hear me roar, see me glow and watch me grow. Like a flower, a rose petal in the wind, I fly away. I let go of my past and drift beautifully into the future. I am a survivor,” Lewis said as she ended her statement.

Lewis faced up to 20 years in prison, but instead was sentenced to probation, and must serve a total of 600 hours of community service — 200 hours in each of the next three years.

Judge David Porter ordered that Lewis begin her probation period by staying at the Fresh Start Women’s Center, a residential facility in Des Moines.

One of her attorneys, Matthew Sheeley, said the outcome was probably the best Lewis could have hoped for. He said she felt relief after the decision.

It’s important, Sheeley said, that Lewis also received a deferred judgment so that if she completes her probation period the conviction can be erased from her record.

“The deferred judgement affords her the opportunity to avoid any kind of criminal record in this case,” Sheeley said. “The opportunity that she has to secure employment later in life, to further her education, to get student loans, all of those doors are still open to Piper and we’re thrilled that those opportunities still exist for her.”

Probation carries a risk, though. Judge Porter warned that if Lewis violates the terms of her probation, she may end up back before him in court and could face prison time.

Because Lewis was convicted of a felony she must also pay $150,000 to her victim’s estate, even though prosecutors never disputed her claims that she was assaulted and trafficked. Sheeley said forcing Lewis to pay to her abuser’s family amounts to “cruel and unusual punishment.”

“There are a lot of people that have expressed surprise and I think even horror at the idea that she’s going to be required to pay this estate $150,000 when she was herself a victim,” Sheeley later said outside the courthouse.

Judge Porter said he had no option to reduce or eliminate the amount because restitution is “dictated by state law,” and makes no exceptions.

Sheeley said Lewis has not decided whether to appeal that part of her sentence.

As of Wednesday morning, a GoFundMe fundraiser organized for Lewis had received thousands of donations and surpassed it's original $150,000 goal to help her pay the restitution costs. The goal was increased to help her pay for other court ordered fees and to save to pay for college or to start her own business.

Copyright 2022 Iowa Public Radio. To see more, visit Iowa Public Radio.

Harvest Public Media's reporter at NET News, where he started as Morning Edition host in 2008. He joined Harvest Public Media in July 2012. Grant has visited coal plants, dairy farms, horse tracks and hospitals to cover a variety of stories. Before going to Nebraska, Grant studied mass communication as a grad student at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, and completed his undergrad at Buena Vista University in Storm Lake, Iowa. He grew up on a farm in southwestern Iowa where he listened to public radio in the tractor, but has taken up city life in Lincoln, Neb.