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An Iowa teenage sex trafficking victim who stabbed her rapist to death was sentenced by a judge on Tuesday to five years of closely supervised probation and must pay $150,000 restitution to her abuser’s family.
Pieper Lewis, 17, stabbed her abuser, 37-year-old Zachary Brooks, more than 30 times in June 2020. She was initially charged with first-degree murder.
Last year, Lewis pleaded to involuntary manslaughter and willful injury, both of which were punishable by up to 10 years in prison. However, Polk County District Judge David Porter deferred those prison sentences on Tuesday, meaning Lewis could serve 20 years if she violates her probation.
Porter said he ordered Lewis to pay restitution to Brooks’ family because the court was “presented with no other option.” He explained that the restitution is mandatory under Iowa law.
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Lewis, who was 15 when she stabbed Brooks in a Des Moines apartment, had run away from home to escape her abusive adoptive mother. She was sleeping in the halls of an apartment building when Christopher Brown, 28, took her in and began trafficking her to other men for sex, according to officials.
Among those men was Brooks, who Lewis said raped her multiple times before she killed him. She recalled being forced at knife point to go to his apartment for sex. After Brooks raped her for what would end up being the last time, Lewis grabbed a knife off a bedside table and stabbed him.
Neither police nor prosecutors dispute whether Lewis was trafficked and assaulted, but prosecutors allege that Brooks was not an immediate threat because he was asleep when he was stabbed.
Iowa is not among the dozens of states with a safe harbor law that gives trafficking victims some level of criminal immunity.
Lewis will be transported to a halfway house in Des Moines and will wear a GPS tracking device to ensure she does not fall “back into the lifestyle that you thus far left,” Porter said. She will also have to complete 200 hours of community service.
“My spirit has been burned, but still glows through the flames,” she read from a prepared statement prior to her sentencing. “Hear me roar, see me glow, and watch me grow.”
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“I am a survivor,” she continued.
Prosecutors took issue with Lewis labeling herself as a survivor, claiming she failed to take responsibility for Brooks’ death and left his children without a father.
The judge pressed Lewis to explain the poor choices she made that led to the stabbing and noted his concerns that she sometimes did not wish to follow rules in juvenile detention.
“The next five years of your life will be full of rules you disagree with, I’m sure of it,” Porter said, later adding, “This is the second chance that you’ve asked for. You don’t get a third.”
Lewis said, “I took a person’s life. My intentions that day were not to just go out and take somebody’s life. In my mind, I felt that I wasn’t safe, and I felt that I was in danger, which resulted in the acts. But it doesn’t take away from the fact that a crime was committed.”
She said she regretted the stabbing, “but to say there is one victim is absurd.”
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Iowa does have an affirmative defense law that offers some leeway to victims of a crime if the victim committed the violation “under compulsion by another’s threat of serious injury, provided that the defendant reasonably believed that such injury was imminent.”
However, prosecutors argued that Lewis waived that affirmative defense when she pleaded guilty to manslaughter and willful injury.
Lewis earned her GED while in juvenile lockup and was unable to communicate with friends and family.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.