human trafficking

Trafficked Teen Pieper Lewis Is Back in Custody

Photo: Zach Boyden-Holmes/The Des Moines Register

Pieper Lewis, an 18-year-old trafficking victim in Iowa who earlier this year was ordered to pay $150,000 in restitution to her accused rapist’s family after stabbing him to death in 2020, is back in custody after escaping from the women’s center where she was serving her five-year probation sentence, CNN reports. Iowa authorities claim that Lewis, who was still a minor when she received her deferred judgement and probation sentence, was seen leaving the facility last Friday after cutting off her GPS monitor. A warrant was subsequently issued for her arrest along with a probation-violation report asking that her deferred judgement be revoked and her original sentence — up to 20 years in prison — be imposed. According to the Iowa Department of Corrections, Lewis is currently being held at the Polk County Jail and is expected to have a future court date for violating her probation.

Lewis was 15 when she killed 37-year-old Zachary Brooks in his Des Moines apartment. Prior to the incident, Lewis said in a witness statement that she had run away from home, fleeing an abusive situation involving her adoptive mother. She said she was sleeping in the hallways of an apartment building when a man, 28-year-old Christopher Brown, took her in, posing as her boyfriend before allegedly forcing her to have sex with other men for money, including Brooks. Per Lewis, Brooks coerced her to consume alcohol and other intoxicants before raping her while she was unconscious on at least five different occasions. The day of the stabbing, Lewis claims that Brown held her at knifepoint and forced her to return to Brooks’s apartment, where Brooks again drugged her; she says she woke up to him raping her before passing out again. When Lewis finally regained consciousness, Brooks was asleep. “Without thinking, I immediately grabbed the knife from his night stand and began stabbing him,” she said in her statement. The next day, Lewis was arrested at Brown’s apartment; she was held for two years at a juvenile-detention facility, where she earned her GED. In 2021, she pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter and willful injury in connection to Brooks’s death, charges that are punishable by up to ten years in prison each.

During her September sentencing hearing, Lewis told the court she is a “survivor” and that, while she wished the events of the night of the stabbing had “never occurred,” saying “there is one victim” — Brooks — “is absurd.” Although prosecutors didn’t challenge Lewis’s account that she’d been trafficked and abused, they reportedly took issue with her calling herself a victim, arguing that Brooks, despite having allegedly drugged and raped an unconscious Lewis, didn’t pose an immediate threat to her when she stabbed him. Before announcing Lewis’s sentence, the judge in the case probed her about what mistakes she’d made in her life (“I took a person’s life,” Lewis replied) and raised concerns about rules she allegedly hadn’t followed in juvenile detention.

In addition to being ordered to pay $150,000 in restitution to Brooks’s family, Lewis was also sentenced to five years of probation, which prosecutors reportedly considered “merciful.” She was ultimately granted a deferred judgment, meaning her guilty plea would have been expunged when she met her stringent probation requirements — including completing 200 hours of community service every year for three years and wearing the GPS tracking device for five. “This is the second chance you’ve asked for. You don’t get a third,” the judge told Lewis after the sentence. A GoFundMe for Lewis’s restitution and university costs has raised over $500,000 since it was set up in September, though the money won’t be released until the site’s verification process is complete.

Meanwhile, Brown has not yet faced any charges for allegedly trafficking a teenager; a county attorney said the matter was “still pending” as of September.

This post has been updated.

Trafficked Teen Pieper Lewis Is Back in Custody