The man who would become Pieper Lewis’ boyfriend was the person she first saw when she was asleep in the corridor of her apartment building. She had fled her home in Des Moines, Iowa, when she was 15 years old.
He invited her to stay at his place and started calling her his girlfriend. But then, she claims, he started posting her on dating apps. She claimed responsibility for killing one of the men who had paid to have sexual relations with her on seven or eight separate times.
The minor claimed that on the evening of May 31, 2020, she was coerced into visiting the apartment of Zachary Brooks, 38, where she was repeatedly sexually abused while being drugged and plied with alcohol. After that, something clicked in her mind when she saw him asleep.
Lewis claimed in his statement of guilt for voluntary manslaughter and deliberate damage, “I instantly understood that Mr. Brooks had raped me but once more and was seized with wrath.”
She stabbed him multiple times, and a day later she was arrested for murder. The state did not contest her charges of trafficking, and a judge in Polk County indicated in court documents that the evidence seemed to support the allegations. She faced up to 20 years in prison, however, in a case with parallels to others in which a child who had been trafficked into prostitution had killed their attackers.
Polk County District Choose David M. Porter on Tuesday handed down a 5-year probationary term to be spent in a residential correctional facility for Lewis, who is now 17 years old. He put off judging Lewis, so that if she successfully finishes probation, she will have her record sealed. Lewis’s attorneys fought against the judge’s order that she pay $150,000 in reparations to Brooks’ family, but the judge insisted that he did not have the authority to waive the order.
Lewis testified before the judge made his decision. From a profound statement beginning “As we speak, my voice might be heard,” she gained insight. She spoke for several minutes about the trauma she had experienced and her attempts to accept responsibility for her acts and move on.
“I wish what happened on June 1, 2020, had never happened,” she lamented. “However, it’s ludicrous to suggest there’s only one victim here.”
Her alleged trafficker remains unindicted. When asked by The Washington Post if detectives had looked into Lewis’s claims, a representative for the Des Moines Police Division did not provide an answer.
Other claimed victims of sexual trafficking and murder have languished in prison for years, their mistreatment often ignored or downplayed by the courts. Alexis Martin, from Ohio, was charged with murder and given a life sentence after prosecutors claimed she had helped plot the robbery that resulted in the death of her alleged trafficker. After killing her attacker, Chrystul Kizer was sentenced to life in prison in Wisconsin.
Cyntoia Brown, who was trafficked at 16 years old, spent 15 years in prison for murdering the person who paid for her sexual services. Then, in 2019, her sentence was commuted and she was released as supporters rallied to her side in the aftermath of the Me Too movement. Her experience brought to light the plight of other children with parallel stories, prompting some authorities to reevaluate their treatment.
The case of Lewis has also attracted attention, provoked indignation, and calls for her release. Since her arrest in June of 2020, she has been kept in a juvenile correctional center.
“Nobody has ever denied that she was a victim,” said KellyMarie Meek, coordinator of prevention and public health initiatives at the Iowa Coalition Against Sexual Assault. “But the way that she’s being handled isn’t the way that we’d expect a victim of trafficking, not to mention a minor victim of trafficking, to be handled.”
According to court records, Lewis’s childhood was frequently disrupted by trauma in the years before she met Brooks.
Her lawyers stated in court documents that she was very malnourished when she was returned to the hospital a few days after birth. Her parents’ rights were terminated, she was placed in foster care, and Billy and Leslie Lewis adopted her. Lewis, who was a middle schooler when the divorce was finalized in 2019, began openly dating after the split. As a response, Lewis’s mother took what Lewis’s lawyers called “Draconian parenting methods,” destroying Lewis’s bedroom door and making her sleep on a mattress on the floor.
She was forbidden from talking to her siblings and told to stay in her room until she was called.