An Iowa teenager who killed her alleged rapist was sentenced Tuesday to five years of probation and ordered to pay the victim’s family $150,000 in restitution.
Polk County District Judge David M. Porter told 17-year-old Pieper Lewis he was giving the teen a “second chance” by handing down a sentence without jail time for killing 37-year-old Zachary Brooks in June of 2020.
Lewis, who said she had killed the man in a fit of “rage” after he raped her, had been facing a possible sentence of up to 20 years behind bars after pleading guilty last year to involuntary manslaughter and willful injury.
“Well, Ms. Lewis, this was the second chance you asked for,” Porter said according to The Des Moines Register. “You don’t get a third.”
As part of sentence, the potential jail time was deferred, which means that if Lewis violates any of the terms of her probation she could be headed to prison, The Associated Press reports.
Lewis, who was just 15 years old when she said was forced into sex trafficking by a 28-year-old musician, apologized in court Tuesday for killing Brooks but was clear that she believed she had also been a victim in the case.
“I wish that never happened,” she said of Brook’s death. “But to say there’s only one victim in the story is absurd.”
She also referred to herself in a prepared statement she read in court as a “survivor.”
“My spirit has been burned, but still glows through the flames,” she said. “Hear me roar, see me glow, and watch me grow.”
While prosecutors have never disputed that she was sex trafficked or had been sexually assaulted, they disagreed with her characterization as a victim, saying she stabbed Brooks as he slept and didn’t take responsibility for leaving the man’s “kids without a father,” according to the news outlet. Brooks left behind three children.
Lewis had been homeless and sleeping in the hallway of an apartment complex when she said she met the 28-year-old man who sex trafficked her to other men, including Brooks, in exchange for money or drugs.
In her plea agreement obtained by The Register, Lewis said Brooks had raped her five other times in the weeks before the fatal encounter and raped her one final time on June 1, 2020 after she was forced to go over to his home by the musician in exchange for drugs.
She said she was plied with vodka and marijuana before she fell asleep and woke up to find Brooks raping her. She screamed for him to stop, but said in the statement that he continued to attack her. After he fell asleep, she got up to get her clothes and saw a knife sitting on his nightstand.
“I suddenly realized that Mr. Brooks had raped me yet again and (I) was overcome with rage,” she wrote.
She stabbed him more than 30 times before fleeing the apartment. On Tuesday, Lewis said she plans to use her experience to help others by becoming a juvenile justice advocate.
“My story can change things. My story has changed me,” she said. “The events that took place on that horrific day cannot be changed, as much as I wish I could. That day a combination of complicated actions took place resulting in the death of a person, as well as a stolen innocence of a child.”
Porter made the decision to give the now 17-year-old probation and send her to the Fresh Start Women’s Center after listening to testimony last week from Lewis’ therapist Megan Hoxhalli and neurologist Dr. Robert Kinscherff, who testified that she needed counseling and to learn accountability for her actions so she didn’t slip back into the same life that made her vulnerable to others.
Porter also questioned her about the challenges she's previously had within the juvenile detention system following the structure and rules and said her new life at the women’s center would also be filled with rules.
“Until you reach the age of 25, your life will be highly structured,” he said. “Particularly for the next three years.”
Porter said he handed down the $150,000 restitution payment because he had “no other option” under the state law, which requires mandatory restitution to victim’s families.
As of Wednesday morning, however, a GoFundMe account set up by one of Lewis’ former teachers at Des Moines Lincoln High School to help her pay the fee had reached approximately $140,000, The Des Moines Register reports.
As part of her probation requirements, she’ll be required to wear a GPS tracking device and complete 200 hours of community service, according to KCCI.