By Stacy M. Brown
Pieper Lewis had never known freedom and had never enjoyed the support and guidance necessary for children to succeed.
The 17-year-old pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter and willful injury for fatally stabbing Zachary Brooks, 37, who authorities admitted raped her multiple times in 2020 when she was 15.
Brooks, whom prosecutors acknowledged purchased Pieper from a sex trafficking ring, also was accused of repeatedly drugging and beating the teen.
Polk County District Judge David Porter sentenced Pieper to five years of supervised probation and ordered her to pay $150,000 restitution to the man’s family.
The judge said Iowa law required the restitution to the family, as well as $4,000 to the state.
“The court is cognizant that you and your supporters will be frustrated with the imposition of the $150,000 in restitution to Mr. Brooks’ estate,” Porter told Pieper. “This court is presented with no other option, other than which is dictated by the law of this state.”
He also told Pieper that she’s to refrain from getting into any trouble, or he’d otherwise impose a 20-year prison sentence. However, if she meets the conditions of her sentence, the court could expunge Pieper’s record.
In court, Pieper spoke about overcoming her challenging situation.
“My spirit has been burned but still glows through the flames,” she read from a prepared statement. “Hear me roar, see me glow, and watch me grow. I am a survivor.”
While support for Pieper had been elusive over the years — she was raised in foster care and shipped from home to home — her high school math teacher Leland Schipper stepped in to offer what no one had ever done.
Schipper started a GoFundMe crowdsourcing page for Pieper to help offset the cost of the $150,000 judgment and to help her restart her life.
“Today, my former student, Pieper Lewis, bravely took the microphone during her sentencing hearing and told the courtroom that her voice mattered,” Schipper wrote on the fundraising site. “I was incredibly proud of her. She was powerful, and she brought me to tears.”
Schipper said Pieper, who had already spent nearly three years in juvenile detention awaiting trial, did not deserve to spend time in an adult prison.
“Instead, the judge gave her five years of probation. He decided that 834 days she spent in juvenile detention awaiting her sentencing was enough ‘punishment’ for a then fifteen-year-old girl who had been kicked out of her home and found herself sleeping in the stairwell of one of the most dangerous apartment complexes in Des Moines,” the math teacher wrote.
The fundraising effort has netted more than $325,000 to date, and Schipper called her sentence a “compassionate outcome.”
Like many who’ve reacted to the restitution part of her sentence, Schipper asserted that Pieper “does not owe that man’s family justice.”
“Pieper does not deserve to be financially burdened for the rest of her life because the state of Iowa wrote a law that fails to give judges any discretion as to how it is applied,” he said. “This law doesn’t make sense in many cases, but in this case, it’s morally unjustifiable. A child who was raped, under no circumstances, should owe the rapist’s family money.”
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