A judge in Des Moines gave a teen who killed the man she said raped her a chance at redemption by giving her probation and opening the door to expungement of her criminal record.
There was, however, 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 Iowa.
This week, her devoted following raised that amount and more to help her out.
As of 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 Tuesday sentencing hearing, more than 10,000 donors contributed, most in small amounts, raising the total.
“I am overjoyed with the prospect of removing this burden from Pieper,” Schipper wrote in an update.
In 2020, Lewis, then age 16, admitted to killing Zachary Brooks, then 37, and willfully injuring another person. She detailed a terrifying chain of events that had led up to that night in her appeal. She claimed that her home life was unstable, and that a 28-year-old man took her in after she ran away.
He pretended to be her boyfriend, but in fact, coerced the 15-year-old into having sexual relations with other men. She identified Brooks as one of them. It was between May 30 and June 1, 2020, and she claims that he sexually assaulted her multiple times before falling asleep and leaving her in a rage.
“I suddenly realized that Mr. Brooks had raped me yet again,” Lewis wrote in her pleading letter. She took a knife from the 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 contest those claims. To this day, the man she said trafficked her has not been charged. When The Washington Post enquired as to whether or not police in Des Moines looked into her claims, they received no response.
Probation is being offered as a second chance’ to a trafficked teen who killed an alleged attacker.
Lewis was facing up to twenty years in prison this week in court. However, Porter decided to serve her probation at a facility exclusively for women. In addition, he postponed sentencing her, so that her record will be sealed after she successfully completes probation.
This is the second chance you’ve been asking for, Ms. Lewis,” he told her. He then said, “I hope everything works out for you.”
Schipper was encouraged by the verdict as he watched it from inside the courtroom. A judge “gave compassionate justice and used the system for what it should be designed for,” he told the Des Moines Register, praising the judge’s decision.
He was taken aback by the sum of money that was expected from her.
“I think people are shocked that Iowa has this law the way we do regarding the $150,000,” Schipper told the newspaper. This is a perfect illustration of why it’s unfair,” he said.
A minimum of $150,000 must be paid to the victim’s estate by anyone convicted of a felony that results in the death of another person.
One of Lewis’s attorneys, Matthew Sheeley, testified in court that Brooks bore more than 51% of the responsibility for Lewis’s death. He reasoned that since this was the case, she should be exempt from payment. This requirement, he said, was cruel and unusual punishment.
He said, “I don’t believe that the Iowa Legislature intended to require a 15-year-old girl… to pay her rapist’s estate $150,000.”
While Porter acknowledged the frustration Lewis and her supporters would feel, he stated he was powerless to reduce or eliminate restitution. According to the Des Moines Register, he mentioned a case from 2017 in which the Iowa Supreme Court ruled that requiring juveniles found guilty of homicide to make the payment was not unconstitutional.
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 ruling was a victory, and that restitution was not Lewis’s top priority. He explained that she was eager to leave the past behind and concentrate on the bright future that lay ahead of her. She has a lot of potential and bright future ahead of her.
Her former teacher, Schipper, was delighted that the fundraiser had the potential to help lighten her family’s financial 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, said that it was unclear what the court would want Lewis or the fundraiser’s organizers to do to allow the money to cover her restitution payment. He clarified that the event planners could give Lewis a check from the fund if they wished, but that doing so might cause complications.
If I were her defense attorney, I’d ask the judge for clarification. That way, the court could say, “This is how we’re going to do this,” as Rigg explained to The Post.
Then you’ll have some space between you and the other person. Rigg explained, “Since you’re following a judge’s orders, you’re safe.”
If more than $150,000 is donated to the restitution fund, the rest of the money will be used at the discretion of the fund’s organizer. Alternatively, Rigg suggested establishing a trust in Lewis’s name “to be distributed for her health, welfare, and education.”
Sheeley and Paul White, another member of Lewis’s defense team, had previously spoken to The Post, praising Lewis’s boundless potential. She would like to be a fashion designer, share her story, and help other girls who are going through the same things.
Sheeley was confident that her student would be successful despite any challenges. Nothing can stand in her way, she says. In my very being, that is how I feel.