The judge gave the Des Moines teen who was convicted of murdering the man she claimed had raped her a “second chance” in the form of probation and the possibility of having her record expunged.
However, there was a major snag. Polk County District Judge David M. Porter stated that he could not get out of ordering Pieper Lewis to pay $150,000 to the man’s family because of a law in the state of Iowa.
This week, her devoted following raised that amount and more to help her out.
By Thursday, the GoFundMe page set up by one of Lewis’s former teachers, Leland Schipper, had raised over $400,000.
Within a few days of the teen’s sentencing on Tuesday, more than 10,000 donors contributed, mostly in small amounts, raising the sum to the required minimum.
Overjoyed at the thought of relieving Pieper of this responsibility, Schipper exclaimed in a site update.
Lewis, now 17 years old, admitted to killing Zachary Brooks, 37, in 2020 and willfully injured another person. In her appeal, she detailed the terrifying chain of events that had brought her to that point. She claimed she escaped an unstable home life to be taken in by a 28-year-old man.
He pretended to be her boyfriend but actually coerced the 15-year-old into having sexual relations with other men. In her opinion, Brooks was among them. According to her, she snapped after he allegedly sexually assaulted her multiple times on May 30 and June 1, 2020, before falling asleep each time.
“I suddenly realized that Mr. Brooks had raped me yet again,” Lewis wrote in her pleading letter. She picked up a blade from his nightstand and stabbed him repeatedly.
A judge in Polk County wrote that there was evidence that seemed to support her claims that she was trafficked, and the prosecution did not dispute those claims. The man she said was trafficking her has not been charged. Des Moines police did not answer The Washington Post’s question about whether they looked into her claims.
Lewis was looking at a possible 20-year prison sentence in court this week. However, Porter decided to serve out her probation at a facility exclusively for female offenders. He suspended his sentence, which means that her record will be sealed after she finishes her probation.
This is the second chance you’ve been asking for, Ms. Lewis,” he told her. He even said, “I hope everything works out for you.”
As the verdict was read in the courtroom, Schipper found encouragement. The judge, he told the Des Moines Register, had shown “compassionate justice” and “used the system for what it should be designed for.”
His surprise came when he heard the price she had to pay.
In an interview with the paper, Schipper speculated that the public was “shocked” by Iowa’s unique $150,000 threshold law. I think this is a perfect illustration of how unfair it is.
One of the penalties for committing a felony that results in another person’s death is having to pay at least $150,000 to the victim’s estate.
One of Lewis’ attorneys, Matthew Sheeley, testified in court that Brooks bore more than 51 percent of the responsibility for Lewis’s untimely demise. She shouldn’t have to pay, he said, because of that. The requirement was described as “cruel and unusual punishment” by him.
‘I don’t believe that the Iowa Legislature intended to require a 15-year-old girl… to pay her rapist’s estate $150,000,’ he said.
Porter said he understood Lewis and her supporters’ frustration but that he was powerless to reduce or eliminate restitution. The Des Moines Register reports that he used a case from 2017 in which the Iowa Supreme Court upheld the necessity of the payment in the context of a juvenile homicide conviction.
He argued that the court was left with “no other option” than that required by state law.
Sheeley told the local NBC affiliate after the hearing that the judge’s decision was a victory and that restitution was not Lewis’ top priority. He explained that she was eager to leave the past behind and concentrate on the bright future that lay ahead of her. There are so many doors waiting to be opened for her.
As her former teacher, Schipper was thrilled at the prospect of the fundraiser’s potential to lighten the load. The Register reports that attorneys for Lewis are investigating whether it is legal to use donations to cover the restitution.
A criminal law professor at Drake University Law School Robert Rigg commented that it was unclear what the court would require of Lewis or the fundraiser’s organizers to use the funds to pay her restitution. He clarified that the organizers were free to give Lewis a gift of the money, but that they might run into trouble if they tried to pay him directly from the fund.
It is my strong opinion that her defense team should consult the court for direction. Rigg told The Post that this would allow the court to declare, “This is how we’re going to do this.”
In this manner, you will have some space between you and the other person. You’re following a judge’s orders, so you’re safe.”
After the initial payment of $150,000 is made toward the restitution, the rest of the money in the fund will be used at the discretion of the fund’s organizer. Rigg suggested establishing a charitable foundation or trust in Lewis’s name “to be distributed for her health, welfare, and education.”
The Washington Post had previously interviewed Sheeley and another member of Lewis’ defense team, Paul White, who spoke highly of her potential. She would like to be a designer, share her story, and help other girls who are going through the same things.
Sheeley is confident that the person will be able to “step right over” any difficulties that may arise. Nothing can stand in her way, she says. Deep down inside, that is exactly how I feel.