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Iowa judge orders continued probation for teen sex trafficking victim who killed her alleged abuser

By AP | May 31, 2023

Pieper Lewis appears in Polk County court, Wednesday, May 31, 2023 in Des Moines, Iowa. Lewis was resentenced to probation for killing 37-year-old Zachary Brooks in June 2020. Lewis said that she was trafficked to Brooks against her will and sexually assaulted multiple times when she was 15. (Zach Boyden-Holmes/The Des Moines Register via AP)

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) -- A teenage sex trafficking victim who fatally stabbed the man she accused of abusing her was resentenced Wednesday to probation, telling an Iowa judge that she now has a support system to help keep her on track.

Prosecutors agreed that Pieper Lewis should continue her probation rather than be incarcerated. Polk County Attorney Kimberly Graham told the judge that her office "sees her as a human being," that she is vulnerable to revictimization and that there is low risk she will commit more violence.

Lewis, now 18, had faced a 20-year prison sentence for the June 2020 fatal stabbing of 37-year-old Zachary Brooks, who Lewis said she was trafficked to against her will and forced to have sex with multiple times at age 15. She pleaded guilty in September to involuntary manslaughter and willful injury and was sentenced to probation.

Polk County Judge David Porter ruled then that Lewis' charges would have been expunged from her record had she kept to the terms of her probation. That decision was revoked Wednesday.

"I indicated to you last year you've asked for a second chance, you don't get a third. I stand by that," Porter said to Lewis. "There are consequences for your actions. You have now been convicted of two felony offenses."

Lewis acknowledged in court that she violated the terms of her agreement when she cut her GPS monitor and walked out of the Fresh Start Women's Center without permission in November. She was arrested days later and has been held at the Polk County jail since then.

Lewis wrote a letter to Porter, dated April 5, that described a "success plan" for probation, according to court documents.

"The team I have now is my biggest support, and I need to stop fighting them," Lewis said in a statement to the judge Wednesday. "I refuse to fail and I refuse to let the system fail me. I've developed a plan and an option so I will succeed this time."

At Wednesday's hearing, defense witnesses described the importance of trauma-informed care for child sex trafficking victims and the research showing a high propensity to run away among this population.

The type of court-ordered placement can determine "the entire future of this young person," said Yasmin Vafa, executive director of Rights4Girls, who testified virtually. "Being in a placement that is a prison-like atmosphere, it can greatly exacerbate that trauma."

Her attorneys were visibly emotional, calling themselves her family, as Porter questioned the teenager's ability to commit to the rehabilitation plan and address criminal tendencies.

Matthew Sheeley, one of Lewis' attorneys, said they were disappointed that she was formally convicted on Wednesday but ultimately relieved by the continuation of her probation.

Lewis will remain in jail until the Department of Corrections determines an appropriate facility.

The Associated Press does not typically name victims of sexual assault, but Lewis agreed to have her name used previously in stories about her case.

A similar case in Wisconsin made it's way to that state's Supreme Court, which ruled that a woman accused of killing a man who was sexually assaulting her could use the fact that she was sex trafficked as a defense in her criminal case. That case is ongoing.