What we know about Pieper Lewis and her escape from a residential correctional facility in Iowa
Nearly two months after she received a deferred sentence for killing the man she said raped her, Iowa teenager and sex-trafficking victim Pieper Lewis he moved away from the residential correctional facility where she was serving probation, prompting authorities to issue a warrant for her arrest.
A teenager, who collected national titles after the judge ordered it She served five years on probation and paid $150,000 in restitution to the family of the man she killed, she has yet to be found.
Here’s what we know about her case, her escape, and what it could mean for her sentence.
Lewis, 18she left the Fresh Start Women’s Center at 6:19 a.m. Friday, according to Jerry Evans, executive director of the Fifth Judicial District Criminal Division, who told CNN in an email Sunday that she left the facility after “turning off her electronic tracking device.”
At the time of Evans’ email, Lewis’ whereabouts were unknown, he said.
The Des Moines facility from which Lewis escaped is a residential correctional facility, on the website of the Fifth Judicial District Department of Corrections. It “accepts residents of different legal status,” who could be admitted “as a condition of probation or parole,” it said. The program aims to “provide a safe and holistic approach to supervision that seeks to educate, support and advocate for all women to transform their lives,” according to the website.
Lewis became a resident at the center after pleading guilty to manslaughter and wounding in connection with the killing of 37-year-old Zachary Brooks when she was 15. Lewis said in her plea agreement that Brooks raped her multiple times in 2020.
In the plea agreement, Lewis recounted in court a series of events that she said led up to the murder, starting with her running away from home because of what she said was an abusive home environment. She was eventually taken in by a man who she said trafficked her, forcing her to have sex with other men in exchange for money. Brooks was one of those men, according to Lewis, who described in his plea agreement that he was repeatedly assaulted, including while she was unconscious.
On May 31, 2020, the man Lewis lived with confronted her at knifepoint and forced her to Brooks’ apartment, where Lewis said she was forced to drink vodka and eventually fell asleep. At one point, she woke up to find Brooks raping her, she said.
Later, Brooks fell asleep and Lewis, “overcome with rage” at realizing he had raped her again, “immediately grabbed a knife from his nightstand and began stabbing him,” she said in the plea agreement.
Lewis faced up to 20 years in prison after pleading guilty. But in September, Polk County Judge David Porter granted a deferred judgment, meaning the guilty plea could be overturned if she served probation in a correctional facility.
The court additionally had to impose a restitution fee of $150,000 under Iowa law, the judge said. He also ordered her to serve 200 hours of community service and pay more than $4,000 in civil penalties.
Lewis’ case sparked an outpouring of generosity from strangers who wanted to help cover restitution: GoFundMe page founded by her former teacher raised more than $560,000 – several times the amount the teenager actually owed.
The money raised from the $150,000 court fee would help Lewis attend college, start his own business and “explore ways to help other young victims of sex crimes,” teacher Leland Schippe wrote on the crowdsourced campaign page, which has since stopped accepting donations.
Still, it was unclear whether Lewis could actually use the money to pay the fee under Iowa law, her attorneys said he told the Des Moines Register.
It’s not entirely clear how exactly Lewis’ leaving the probation center might affect the verdict she received in September.
After she left the women’s center on Friday, authorities filed a “probation violation report,” Evans, the corrections officer, told CNN, “recommending that her probation be revoked.”
“A warrant was subsequently issued for her arrest, which remains outstanding,” he said.
A probation violation report filed Friday with the Iowa Judicial District Department of Correctional Services said an alarm went off at the facility at 6:19 a.m., notifying staff that the door was open. A resident officer then saw Lewis exit the facility through a door, according to a report obtained by CNN.
The report, signed by a probation officer and a housing supervisor, goes on to request a warrant for Lewis’ arrest, adding, “It is further ordered that her suspended sentences be vacated and her original sentence imposed.”
CNN requested a copy of the warrant, and a spokesman for the Iowa Department of Justice told CNN that “any information submitted to the court to secure the warrant will remain sealed until an arrest is made and a warrant return is filed.”
Lewis’ lawyer was pleased with the suspended sentence, saying it would allow her to “live life to the full” in September.
“Pieper is extremely grateful for all the love, compassion and support she has received. Anyone who meets her immediately falls in love with her,” said attorney Matt Sheeley. “She is an extraordinary young woman who has extraordinary courage. And she’s amazed at all the love she’s received – she’s just blown away. Honestly, we’re all thrilled.”
Some representatives of victims of sexual violence felt differentlyexpressing concern about Lewis’s ability to serve her sentence given the extent of her trauma and how her case echoed other years in the US, where teenagers – often of color – have been legally punished or convicted of murdering their own gender by a trafficker or assailant.
“All too often we see a tragic pattern where the criminal justice system punishes the victims of horrific crimes and not the real perpetrators,” said Lindsey Ruff, an attorney who represented the groups in the supporting brief. Chrystul Kizer, who faces life in prison in Wisconsin for killing the man he forced her into sex trafficking. After the Supreme Court’s ruling in July, Kizer will be able to argue in court that her actions were a “direct result” of human trafficking, a defense that could lead to her acquittal.
Many trafficking victims like Kizer or Lewis “suffer severe psychological consequences as a result of being trafficked, which can lead them to behave in seemingly anomalous ways,” Ruff said, including those who appear “self-destructive.”
“The causal link between victimization and crime creates a cycle in which victims are punished for their reactions to their own trauma,” she said.
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