Editor’s Note: Some of the details may be disturbing.
DES MOINES, Iowa (WHO) — A teenage human trafficking victim who was initially charged with first-degree murder after she stabbed her accused rapist to death was sentenced Tuesday in an Iowa court to five years of closely supervised probation and ordered to pay $150,000 restitution to the man’s family.
Pieper Lewis was originally charged with first-degree murder for the stabbing death of Zachary Brooks in 2020. The 17-year-old was charged in the death of 37-year-old Brooks, who she claims raped her multiple times in the weeks before his death. She had faced the possibility of 20 years in prison.
Lewis pleaded last year to involuntary manslaughter and willful injury. Both charges were punishable by up to 10 years in prison.
Polk County District judge David M. Porter on Tuesday deferred those prison sentences, meaning that if Lewis violates any portion of her probation, she could be sent to prison to serve that 20-year term.
As for being required to pay the estate of her rapist, “this court is presented with no other option,” Porter said, noting the restitution is mandatory under Iowa law that has been upheld by the Iowa Supreme Court.
Lewis was 15 when she stabbed Brooks more than 30 times in a Des Moines apartment. Officials have said Lewis was a runaway who was seeking to escape an abusive life with her adopted mother and was sleeping in the hallways of a Des Moines apartment building when a 28-year-old man took her in before forcibly trafficking her to other men for sex.
Lewis said one of those men was Brooks and that he had raped her multiple times in the weeks before his death. She recounted being forced at knifepoint by the 28-year-old man to go with Brooks to his apartment for sex. She told officials that after Brooks had raped her yet again, she grabbed a knife from a bedside table and stabbed Brooks in a fit of rage.
Police and prosecutors have not disputed that Lewis was sexually assaulted and trafficked. But prosecutors have argued that Brooks was asleep at the time he was stabbed and not an immediate danger to Lewis.
Iowa is not among the dozens of states that have a so-called safe harbor law that gives trafficking victims at least some level of criminal immunity.
Lewis, who earned her GED while being held in juvenile detention, acknowledged in a statement prior to her sentencing that she struggled with the structure of her detention, including “why I was treated like fragile glass” or wasn’t allowed to communicate with her friends or family.
“My spirit has been burned, but still glows through the flames,” she read from a statement she had prepared. “Hear me roar, see me glow, and watch me grow.”
“I am a survivor,” she added.
The judge peppered Lewis with repeated requests to explain what poor choices she made that led up to Brooks’ stabbing and expressed concern that she sometimes did not want to follow rules set for her in juvenile lockup.
“The next five years of your life will be full of rules you disagree with, I’m sure of it,” Porter said. He later added, “This is the second chance that you’ve asked for. You don’t get a third.”
Her attorney said after the sentencing that they were extremely happy with the outcome.
“Very pleased at the court decision. Going into this case we assumed the worst she was initially charged with first-degree murder,” said Matt Sheeley.
Lewis’ attorney argued in court that requiring her to pay restitution to the family of the man who raped her was cruel and unusual punishment. Her attorney said that there may be action taken down the line, aimed at the current restitution precedent set at the Iowa Supreme Court. But added that this was a win.
“That is not the most important pressing concern that she has. She wants to move on with her life. She has got her entire life ahead of her. She has all these opportunities ahead of her. So the restitution is not really something she is bothered by at this point,” said Sheeley.
Lewis will be required to undergo mental health and substance abuse evaluation as well as GPS tracking and monitoring. She will not be eligible for early release from probation.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.